October 31, 2010

POSSIBLY IRRITATING ESSAYS: Grist for the Mill (Is that what we are?)

I’m reading a lot of stuff these days.

From UNCHRISTIAN: WHAT A NEW GENERATION THINKS ABOUT CHRISTIANITY AND WHY IT MATTERS by David Kinnaman & Gabe Lyons; to a semi-current issue of ASIMOV’S SCIENCE FICTION (August 2010); to a very strange website called Purpose Drivel: Rantings on the drivel being proclaimed in the name of Christ (she has trouble with everyone’s message but her own, which I guess is the correct one); to friend blogs like The Friday Challenge and The Used Diaper Salesman; to blogs from various and sundry authors and editors and agents – in a effort to walk closer to Christ and be a part of proclaiming His Word.

My way of proclaiming is by writing and the grist (define: Grist is grain that has been separated from its chaff in preparation for grinding. It can also mean grain that has been ground at a grist mill. Its etymology derives from the verb grind. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Grist) for every story is what I read, hear and experience. Writing stories about alien worlds and not only making my characters realistic, but also letting them believe in Jesus Christ as risen Lord and King has become my mission. I know – it’s crazy, but I think that there will be Christians in space, on Mars, in the clouds of Venus, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune as well as points beyond. I also believe those Christians will be essentially unchanged from the Christians of Jesus’ time.

HOWEVER, these Christians will be the type portrayed in…hmmm…I can’t think of any books off the top of my head. Catholic priests have played important roles in science fiction – from the single priest in the haunting borderline literary/SF novel by Mary Doria Russell, THE SPARROW and James Blish’s A CASE OF CONSCIENCE and a Mormon missionary was the viewpoint character in “That Leviathan Whom Thou Hast Made” in the September 2010 issue of ANALOG. But I can’t think of (or GOOGLE) a single reference showing an evangelical Christian in space whose story is portrayed in a specifically secular magazine or website.

The connection for all of this hit me last night as I lay in bed, not daring to move because I didn’t want my back to explode in excruciating pain: Father Mulcahy from M*A*S*H. A Catholic priest, Father Mulcahy’s witness to Christ was unswerving and deeply committed. He did preach, he did lecture – but he also acted in a consistent, loving way in his everyday life. Though the focus of the series was on booze, cross-dressers, adulterers, liars, cheats, thieves and fornication, Father Mulcahy’s witness was always there. The only thing that never happened in the series’ eleven-year history was someone coming into a faith relationship with Christ. (Given the power of the Holy Spirit, I doubt that that would have occurred in real life, but that might be another story.)

While WE may not be sacrificially active in America today, “During the great plagues that swept Rome in the second century, all of the doctors fled, but the Christians stayed and took care of the sick. They embodied what Christians are called to do. Although many Christians died…pagans were drawn to Christ because they saw both the love of Christians and Christianity itself as a better way of life.” Chuck Colson (p 87, unChristian)

Corroboration: from THE RISE OF CHRISTIANITY: A SOCIOLOGIST RECONSIDERS HISTORY by Rodney Stark (http://search.barnesandnoble.com/The-Rise-of-Christianity/Rodney-Stark/e/9780691027494) “a series of devastating plagues played an instrumental role in the seemingly miraculous growth of the early church. In AD 165, and again in AD 251, terrifying epidemics descended upon the Roman Empire, killing between a quarter to a third of the population. Contemporary accounts describe widespread panic as family members abandoned their loved ones at the first sign of disease, sometimes tossing them into the roads even before they had died. As a result, many plague sufferers were left without food, water, and basic care that could have dramatically increased survival rates.

“Christians, however, soon gained a reputation for their boldness in the face of death…bishop Dionysius…described how Christians ‘showed unbounded love and loyalty, never sparing themselves and thinking only of one another. Heedless of danger, they took charge of the sick, attending to their every need and ministering to them in Christ, and with them departed this life serenely happy; for they were infected by others with the disease, drawing on themselves the sickness of their neighbors and cheerfully accepting their pains.’ For these Christians, the epidemic became ‘a time of unimaginable joy,’ a chance for believers to witness to their faith by offering themselves as martyrs.

“It was Christian doctrine…that motivated believers’ courageous response to the terrors of the plague. While their non-Christian neighbors abandoned their beliefs and retreated in fear, Christians found their faith a source of comfort as well as a ‘prescription for action.’ They knew they were their ‘brothers’ keepers,’ that it was ‘more blessed to give than to receive,’ and that they ought to ‘do unto others as you would have them do unto you.’ To further understand the radical claims of the Christian faith…Matthew 25:35-40: ‘I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me…’ By loving one another sacrificially, Christians sought to reflect God’s own sacrificial love. Because they believed that God loved all humanity, they also believed that their own love must extend beyond family and tribe. These were revolutionary concepts at the time, and by taking these teachings to heart, early Christians earned a reputation even among their opponents for their radical loving-kindness.”

So – I need to continue to write Christian characters, but they need to be sacrificial Christians and have more in common with those Christians in Rome, the men in THROUGH GATES OF SPLENDOR and any other men and women who have willingly risked their lives for the sake of Christ in the past month.

Hmmm…more grist, indeed.

image: data:image/jpg;base64,/

October 29, 2010

EXPERIMENTAL WRITING: Can Reading A Story Be Enhanced By Listening To A Song?

I tried this once a year or so ago – and I sort of liked the effect. I thought I’d try it again and this time, tie the story closer to the lyrics. My hope is that the story will be enhanced by the music and the music will enhance the story. Your thoughts on the matter would be greatly appreciated!

1) In a second tab, go to this Youtube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LartL77Nuqs&feature=related and queue it up.

2) Hit play on the Youtube, go to the story below and while listening to the music on low, read it.

The Story –


A bolt of actinic lighting slashed the sky, flooding an immense silver web of wires suspended from hot air balloons. Thunder growled faintly in the thin air of the gas giant, River.

Turin Beejis Ramone growled inside his spacesuit, “Give me what I want!” The spider WAS what he only dreamed of being: useful. Salt-ice lattice shell, a Faraday cage protected secret messages delivered by hand and small flyers. It gave the spider its purpose, so that gulping messages to protect them from the lightning, it took them out later, slotted them into a program that broadcast to moons above. Then messages flew to five million grenan, imp, mod, envadan, art, cold and virtual Humans. One chip held Turin’s deepest secret.

As he raged against that thought, the lattice of the envadan melted in his hot, gloved hands. Its death agony vibrated the carbon fibers of his suit like guitar strings. Jamming his hand into its stomach, he grabbed the treasured metal chips.

He dropped the body and it spun away in the thin arctic wind tugging at his glider. He looked wildly around but no one had seen. Floating through the frigid upper levels of Mekong Band, the antenna was one of a thousand joining data of hot and cold, hydrogen and helium, water and ammonia hurricane gas giant River stripes.

Lightning struck the web, sparking on silver antennae threads. Startled, Turin slipped and fell, wires slicing neatly through his glider cords. He fell screaming, onto a three-meter-long VHF prong. It punctured his self-sealing suit twice and hit neither vein nor artery. Staring up, his hand spasmed and the chips fell into the clouds. Freezing blood slick triggered an automated call to the nearest paramedic as Turin moaned, cursing everything inhuman.

Far below, Irog, an environmentally adapted Human manta ray with a five-kilometer wingspan heard the call and pitched himself into a steep dive, opening his maw to scream a stuka siren. Inside an oxygen-nitrogen bubble, rode gear and paramedics. The younger shouted, “I told you to warn us!”

Snickering, Irog the hūmbūlance leveled off. “It’s ten klicks straight up.”

“See anything?” asked an older paramedic.

“There’s a thunderhead between us and the accident.”

Gordon sighed and said, “You know what to do, bud?” He slapped the wall of flesh.

“Ouch!” Irog exclaimed, the floor rippled, “And yes, I do know what to do. ETA in five.” Spinning and twisting up through roiling storm clouds, he circled the antenna. “I have a read on his suit biosigns: stable but critical. Gordon, take the glider down. Rane prep the ER.” Rane hurried through a hall tube; Gordon up through a throat and mouth. With blue kit and a glider, outside, he leapt into a gale and dropped down beside Turin.

“Patch me into his comm.”


Turin?” A faint moan. “I’m a paramedic with a hūmbūlance and another paramedic. We’re here to…”

Turin struggled, gasping, “Not genetic freaks!”

Gordon scowled, “Purity League again?”

“Two in one month,” said Rane. “Ready here.”

Turin struggled on his antenna spit, “No!”

Gordon read the bioscan completely and said, “You’re not even Human, why scream at us?”

Turin wept, stopped moving and wheezed, “You’ll tell everyone…I’d rather die.”

With a metal cutter, Gordon clipped the antenna, squatted, put his arms under Turin and said, “I won’t tell anyone.” Gordon stood, disimpaling Turin as he screamed until he passed out.

October 24, 2010

WRITING ADVICE: Nathan Bransford 9 – Ten Commandments for a Happy Writer

Nathan Bransford is a West Coast agent with the New York literary agency, Curtis Brown, Ltd. For the past nine years, he has been writing a popular blog reflecting on and illuminating the publishing world. Humorous, serious and ultimately enlightening, I’ll be looking at how THE ESSENTIALS (PLEASE READ BEFORE YOU QUERY) continue to influence my writing. I am using them with his permission and if you’d like to read his blog (which I highly recommend) go to http://blog.nathanbransford.com/.

Before I launch into this, I should point out that one of the reasons I’ve stopped reading THE WRITER and WRITER’S DIGEST is that they’ve devolved into magazines that publish lists.

The current Table of Contents of those magazines included the following (incomplete) titles: “6 Key Steps to Writing...”, “The 007 Way to Write…”, “10 Tips for Querying…”, “…4 Simple Exercises”, “5 Tips to Polish…”, “25 Tips to Sharpen…”

Long ago, one of the magazines had articles that seriously explored different aspects of writing. I understand that times change, but today, the two magazines are virtually indistinguishable and I think that’s a great loss. In my opinion, they have started to cater to the “Just Tell Me What I’m Supposed To Do To Get Famous!” mob that looks to start writing careers in the wake of recession by skipping all of that study, sacrifice, practice and trial-and-error garbage that writers had to go through in the olden days. All they want is the REAL stuff -- you know, that stuff Steven King did AFTER the study, sacrifice, practice and trial-and-error and just before signing the $1.3 million contract.

*rant over*

Nathan Bransford offers a different kind of list. His is called 10 Commandments For A Happy Writer

  1. Enjoy the present.
  2. Maintain your integrity.
  3. Recognize the forces that are outside your control.
  4. Don’t neglect your friends and family.
  5. Don’t quit your day job.
  6. Keep up with publishing industry news.
  7. Reach out to fellow writers.
  8. Park your jealousy at the door.
  9. Be thankful for what you have.
  10. Keep writing.

I’m going to focus on the one I found most surprising. It wasn’t because the concept was surprising I was stunned because he was honest about it.

In the 9th Commandment, Bransford exhorts us to “Be thankful for what you have” and then points out an obvious but little acknowledged circumstance: “There are millions of starving people around the world and they’re not writing because they’re starving. If you’re writing, you’re doing just fine. Appreciate it.”

At first, I was inclined to think he was using hyperbole to make a point, and perhaps he is. It certainly worked with me. But as I paused to think about it, I began to doubt that he did it just to make a point. He said something I rarely, if ever consider: my wealth gives me the opportunity to engage my brain in the pursuit of writing. This dovetailed unexpectedly with a random thought I had the other night.

I’m busy reading shorts right now to update myself in speculative fiction. I glanced at the cover of the August 2010 issue of ASIMOV’S and heard a voice inside my head whisper, “What is the purpose of short fiction?”

Last night, I read a section of Robert A. Heinlein’s semi-autobiography, GRUMBLES FROM THE GRAVE. In it, he said, “…if a writer does not entertain his readers, all he is producing is paper dirty on one side…STRANGER IN A STRANGE LAND…’s entertainment values were sufficient to carry the parable, even if it was read strictly for entertainment.” (page 244-245)

Heinlein wrote at times for the same reason Jesus came to Earth – to tell parables, a parable being “a short fiction that illustrates an explicit moral lesson” (http://www.wwnorton.com/litweb/glossary/).

I’m feeling suddenly inspired to write short stories (if Heinlein implied that STRANGER was a “short fiction”, I wonder what a “long fiction” would have looked like?)

It’s sometimes strange how disparate thoughts come together into a coherent lesson.

For me this happened because of Nathan Bransford’s 9th Commandment for a Happy Writer and I am definitely happier now – but more importantly, I’m wiser.

(I’ve poked around at parables before:



image: http://photo.goodreads.com/books/1229984020l/403305.jpg

October 21, 2010


Daniel Keyes’ FLOWERS FOR ALGERNON: the story has stayed with me for decades, a symbol for both the overwhelming possibilities of the human intellect and the overwhelming impossibilities faced by a profoundly challenged human mind. I’ve started and stopped this novel a half a dozen times in eleven years. I want to bring the original idea into the present millennium. To read RECONSTRUCTION from beginning to here, click on the label to the right and scroll to the bottom.

Mr. Bates was standing at the far end of the hallway when CJ Hastings turned the corner, running at full speed.

“You can slow down and walk right now, buster, or I’ll send you back to your room and you can walk it all over again!” he bellowed down the hall.

CJ stopped, took, deep breath and walked even though his pulse seemed to thunder in his ears. He twitched as he wrestled with his feet. They got in each other’s way and he tripped, almost falling. When he reached the end of the hall, Mr. Bates said, “So, we’re going to another meet Saturday. I take it you’re no longer grounded?”

Disoriented, CJ nodded and said, “Uh…I can be there.”

“Good! I have a new method we can use to help you read the questions, so I’m excited…”

Mom came out of the office and said, “Thanks, Mr. Bates. I’ll take him from here.” She grabbed CJ’s arm and with long strides, rushed them out of the school.

“Mom? What happened?” CJ asked, trying to shake off Mom’s grip.

She didn’t let go as she said, “Not yet. We’re still on the security cameras and I’m sure someone can hear us.”

CJ gave her a funny look as they headed to the car parked in the VISITOR row. Mom unlocked it with the electronic key, starting it as well. When they were in, CJ said, “What happened?”

Mom put the car in reverse and floored it out of the parking lot as she said, “Mai Li is gone again – but this time she left a message.”

CJ sat back in the car seat and stared through the windshield. What was she doing? Where was she going? Who was she with? He asked, “Where’s the message?”

“On the computer at home.” She handed him her PDA and added, “I downloaded it to MicApple. Watch it.”

He nodded and brought up the video function and hit play. The tiny speaker played a thin version of Mai Li’s voice as her face appeared. He squinted. She looked mad. Her voice matched. She said, “I’ve hit a brick wall here. I’ve been on line with that so-called doctor Chaz-what’s-his-name and he refuses to turn my own records to me! Like he could possibly know more about me than I can know! He’s the retard, little brother – not you! I’m obviously the best person to do research on myself.” She paused, took a deep breath, closed her eyes and continued, he voice more calm. “So, my plan – in general, Mom, so don’t send someone after me, I’m the super-hyper-major-genius-babe, here, thank you very much! – is to get out of here and get the information I need by whatever means.” Her lips thinned and her eyes squinted.

CJ recognized the look. When she’d had brain damage, it was the look she put on her face when she was picking up a piece of cereal to put in her mouth; a look of intense concentration. She said, “I intend to bring this to everyone. Not just the rich.” She snorted. “Maybe I can start a plague of intelligence!” Pause. “See you guys later. Don’t come after me.” The image winked out.

CJ looked at Mom and said, “What are we going to do?”

She shook her head. “She’s a super genius…”

“Like The Brain,” CJ said. “She’s gonna take over the world. With brains – to give everyone else brains.” He paused. “She gave me brains. I think we should leave her alone.”

Mom didn’t say anything as she drove, but CJ saw that she sucked in her lower lip and bit it. It meant she was having second thoughts about something she’d done.

image: http://www.pocket-lint.com/images/waX0/iphone-4-face-time-data-0.jpg?20100803-151003

October 17, 2010

Slice of PIE: Science Fiction and Fantasy – Evangelistic Literature of Hope and Triumph!

No matter if you fall into the dystopian, the utopian or the realist writer’s camp, few people will deny that at one time, science fiction was the evangelistic literature of science and fantasy was the evangelistic literature of the triumph of good over evil.

At one time, science fiction characters solved problems by the dramatic application of science. In fantasy, heroes overcame incredible odds to ultimately triumph over evil. Horror, of course, plumbed the darkest side of human nature and the supernatural, seamlessly illustrating what happened when the two collided.

Not so any more.

Horror leaks into fantasy; fantasy darts into science fiction and the genre itself has broadened to a point where the originals and their clear permutations are now sheltered under the umbrella of Speculative Fiction. (Isn’t ALL fiction speculative? Is that where we’re going?)

And yet…

And yet…

As harbingers of things to come and heralds of good and evil, science fiction and fantasy served clear purposes. The one provided visions of the future that we could mull over, reject or accept and consider implementing. The other gave us clear hope that given great sacrifice, good would triumph over evil. Even the Bible, if taken as simple literature, bears this out over and over.

Science fiction and fantasy, fondly known more briefly as SFF, bore their message both to a very specific slice of America (and sometimes beyond) and shaped technology along the way. How many of today’s scientists and inventors grew up and helped realize the vision of Roddenberry’s STAR TREK? If you watch Motorola’s “DROID” commercials, at the very end you’ll see that the name is courtesy LucasFilms, owners of the STAR WARS franchise (as well, the initial commercials paid homage to SUPERMAN and 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY, too).

My thesis here – which will go undefended at this point and serve only to irritate or get people thinking – is that by scooting under the skirts of “speculative fiction”, both SF and F have lost their purpose. It is a rare instance now to read SFF and come away with a positive vision of the future or a belief that good will triumph over evil.

That’s not what “specfic” is for. Dystopian SF has flooded the YA/Teen market. Fantasy worlds hold neither good nor evil, just people of various fantastic natures muddling about, trying to do…well, usually not right, but stuff so that they don’t get killed themselves.

Instead of being messengers of future hope and the triumph of good over evil today “specfic” merely seeks to speculate in order to entertain (or grind a particular writer’s axe...but then THAT part hasn’t changed.)

How if we hie back to request those former days – NOT the “Golden Days” of SFF which, besides being schmaltzy, were sexist, racist and almost any other “ist” you can think of) – rather the days when SFF was the evangelistic literature of future hope and the triumph of good over evil?

image: http://www.letstalk.com/img/prod/cell-phones/verizonwireless/motorola/droid-by-motorola-verizon-wireless_pdi.gif

October 14, 2010

A SHORT, LONG JOURNEY NORTH 17: July 9, 1946 – July 10, 1946

This series is a little bit biographical and a little bit imaginary about my dad and a road trip he took in the summer of 1946, when he turned fifteen. He and a friend hitchhiked from Loring Park to Duluth, into Canada and back again. He was gone from home for a month. I was astonished and fascinated by the tale. So I added some imaginary elements and this series is the result. To read earlier SHORT LONG JOURNEY NORTH, click on the label to the right. The FIRST entry is on the bottom.

The boy – Freddie Merrill found out his name was Charlie – stopped every mile to pick up full milk cans.

After loading on two, three (and one time sixteen!), Freddie and Tommy Hastings would doze off as the truck rumbled along, Charlie grinding the gears like he’d never driven a milk truck before. Tommy’d fall asleep the fastest, so it got to be a game that as Charlie drove along, he’d watch in the rear view mirror for Tommy’s chin to sink to his chest then slam on the breaks just enough to make the younger boy bang his head into a full milk can.

After Freddie busted out laughing the fourth time it happened, Tommy stopped talking to either boy and sat with his arms crossed, sulking after every load they took on.

“Aw, c’mon,” Freddie said after they took on fifteen cans from five farms on either side of a tiny town called Malmo, “If’n it’d been me, you’d a been laughing fit to piss your pants.”

“Would not” came the surly reply from behind crossed arms. Tommy had his knees up, his head down and his face covered.

“Would too,” Freddie said, laughing again. “You’re always making fun of me.”

“I am not,” Tommy said, still not looking up.

“How about the first time I smoked a fag?”

“That’s ‘cause you took too big a drag. Like you were just back from Midway or something.”

Freddie scowled. “That wasn’t why I did that.”

Tommy looked up, “How come, then?”

Freddie shrugged, looked away and said, “ ‘cause Dad said he’d kill me if he caught me smoking and I figured I might as well do it like the big guys do it if I was gonna die the next day.”

Tommy stared at him for a long time before he said, “You’re…” The truck ground to a halt at a stop sign. Charlie leaned out the window and shouted back to them, “Six more stops then we’re in Glen!”

Freddie shouted back, “What then?”

In answer, Charlie floored the accelerator and ground the gears. One of the milk can slid to the edge of the flatbed. Tommy jumped to grab it, shouting, “Hang on, Charlie!”

Charlie slammed on the brakes as Tommy got his hand on milk can’s handle. Everything slid forward. Freddie watched in horror, scrambling against the tilting bed of the truck and trying to dodge teetering milk cans. Tommy, stuck in the handle at an unnatural angle dragged him, cursing and struggling until it collided with another can. The tops of both shot off.

Freddie leaped and grabbed both and as he came down, he screamed, “Are you all right? Are you all right?”

Charlie ran around from the front of the truck shouting, “Are you all right?”

Freddie cussed him out then went to Tommy’s side. “Did it break your hand? Are you OK?”

Tommy looked at him, sank to his knees and lifting his hand, fell forward on to his face.

image: http://1.bp.blogspot.com/_jMGoFd8dP0w/SoRbVYrtiOI/AAAAAAAABY4/n5RWs3-hjwk/s400/bb6.jpg

October 10, 2010

POSSIBLY IRRITATING ESSAY: God Is Dead, but Swear Words Live Forever?

"...colorful metaphors..." (STAR TREK: The Voyage Home)

“Felgercarb and frak!” (The original BATTLESTAR GALACTICA broadcast series)

“Puling mess…” (Geroge RR Martin’s short stories collected in TUF VOYAGING)

There are others, but I won’t go into them now.

In case you haven’t figured it out, these are futuristic “swear words”.

With these, I have no trouble – as I have no trouble with “bloody” or “sodding” in England. (I’ll let you look them up for the American equivalents if you’d like). That’s because swearing has cultural roots that invalidate words as curses outside of context. Douglas Adams takes this to the extreme (as always!) in HITCHHIKER’S GUIDE TO THE GALAXY when one of his characters utters the phrase, “I seem to be having tremendous difficulty with my lifestyle.” This initiates an interstellar war because to the Vl’hurg, it is the most offensive insult imaginable, while being a perfectly innocent (if obscure) statement in American/British English.

Again, I don’t have any trouble with that because it lends a sense of fun to my read.

What I object to is authors who throw 21st Century, English-speaking-American cuss words around as if they will fly to the stars and follow us forever. As it happens, many SF authors then make the assumption that while our cuss words will follow us, God and all of the institutions and trappings that have gathered around Him will be blithely left behind as antiquated and meaningless in an interstellar culture…

WTF? Are they trying to say that cuss words will go to the stars, but God will stay behind?

How about we look at this from a language development point of view?

The “f-word” as we know it, according to the Online Etymological Dictionary (http://www.etymonline.com/index.php?term=devil) which is where I go for all of my etymological (no, this is NOT about bugs! That’s eNtymological) needs), while it has its origins in history, wasn’t codified until around 1500 AD. The same for “s - - -”, at around 1600 AD. So let’s be generous and give both of them an extra millennium from current time to origin: the words as we use them today would be 1500 years old.

By contrast, the WORD for God has its origin in a language called Proto-Indo-European, at least the word for God that you’d find in India and other European languages (Spanish, Italian, English, German, French, Portuguese and others) and originated about 4000 BC (or BCE if you absolutely insist AND read my essay regarding that designation: http://faithandsciencefiction.blogspot.com/2010/01/slice-of-pie-to-whom-is-ce-common.html) or six millennia of usage.

So SF writers, often of the “military SF” variety, sprinkle their writing with f-words and s-words and never the G-word as if the two are here to stay (even in the 25th Century) and the one will disappear once we fly away from home. Two words not even two millennia old will outlast one word that approaches six millennia old.

Oh, come on.

My argument has always been that while SF strives to represent a version of the future of Humanity, writers do so selectively and in accordance with their religious beliefs or non-beliefs. While excellent writing is absolutely de rigueur for a latent Christian worldview to be acceptable to the SF community at large (and some DO include their beliefs: Connie Willis, Michael F. Flynn, JRR Tolkien, Eric James Stone, Orson Scott Card and Gene Wolfe), the majority of SF excludes God. That’s their choice, absolutely. It’s my choice to continue to READ them as well and I will – like the wonderfully renewed career of C. L. Anderson (bka Sarah Zettel) in her “new” book, BITTER ANGELS.

But if I may flog a dead horse, I will continue to prod at the case of cuss words, I’d like to see a higher level of intellectual honesty in usage: if you’re going to keep the 2000-year-old f-word and the 2000-year-old s-word, then grant the benefit of the doubt and keep the six-thousand-year-old G-word as well.

image: http://resources2.news.com.au/images/2010/08/31/1225912/243178-star-trek.jpg

October 7, 2010

MARTIAN HOLIDAY 10: DaneelAH -- Malacandra

On a well-settled Mars, the five major city Council regimes struggle to meld into a stable, working government. Embracing an official United Faith in Humanity, the Councils are teetering on the verge of pogrom directed against Christians, Murderers, Jews, Rapists, Buddhists, Molesters, Muslims, Thieves, Hindu, Embezzlers and Artificial Humans – anyone who threatens the official Faith and the consolidating power of the Councils. It makes good sense, right? An instrument of such a pogrom might just be a Roman holiday...To see the rest of the chapters, go to SCIENCE FICTION: Martian Holiday on the right and scroll to the bottom for the first story.
When DaneelAH got back to his suite four hours later, there was a message on his console.
Scowling, he touched the accept tab. A three dimensional image of Mayor Turin sprang up. She said, “I’ve decided to increase dome dusting to alternating every other day and every week.”
“Work it out,” she said. The image disappeared.
There was a second message. Irritated, he touched the accept tab. The Mayor sprang up again. She looked at him and said, “I’m also creating a new position for you. It will be in addition to your other duties. You are my new forensic xenoarchaeologist. Your first assignment is to find out whatever happened to the Viking 1 lander.”
The message cut him off, continuing, “I don’t need to give you any explanation. You’re an artificial human and have no rights.” DaneelAH couldn’t help but bow his head, a reflex of shame. She didn’t elaborate any further and said, “But I’ll offer you this: while Viking transmitted its data, there is fragmented evidence that there is recorded data on board pointing to an alien incursion into the Solar System.” The image winked out, leaving him staring at the empty space.
Shaking his head, he went to his computer desk and touched it. A light inside flickered as if there was a short. A message floated to the surface. DaneelAH’s head jerked back as he read, “System down. See system administrator.”
“What…” He paused, expecting another message. He glared at the accept tab. It remained dark. “How am I supposed to figure out a schedule for the dust vacuums without using the system?” He glared at the desk then said, “Fine then. I’ll have to do it by hand.” Shaking his head, he strode to his closet, opened it and pulled down his kpad – a portable version of his desk. He’d last used it a few months after Turin had captured them. He’d used it to learn the Malacandra Dome SOP – Standard Operating Procedure and put it away when he was promoted.
He dropped down on his bunk, hunched over the kpad and got to work.
Four days after their meeting with Mayor Turin of Malacandra, DaneelAH, MishAH, AzAH and HanAH stepped out into the intense light of early morning on Mars.
DaneelAH glanced up at the dome and said, “Cleaning day. We’ll have strong light for the next ten days then it’ll fade as the dust gathers.”
“Why can’t they go back to daily cleaning?” AzAH asked.
“Never happen,” he said, gesturing to the fields of faded green. “We’re not selling enough on the soybean market, so we can’t pull any more water – of course we need the water, so we have cut down on the light intensity, so we cut back on cleaning.”
“Anyone know why we’re here?” AzAH asked, smiling at them all.
HanAH rolled his eyes and grumped back, “Do you have to always be so…perky?”
“You’re just jealous. Frowning all the time is wrinkling your face,” she said.
“It takes fewer facial muscles to scowl than to smile. You think my face is wrinkly? You won’t need a mask for the Halloween Ball if yours gets any saggier.”
As she opened her mouth to snap back a reply, a marsbug sank from the surface of the dome and banged against the ground before the tires inflated.
The four artificial humans stared at the ‘bug. HanAH said, “What’s this for?”
The hatch hissed and opened, extending a ramp that almost crushed AzAH’s feet as it clanged to the sidewalk. A speaker on the roof squealed with feedback then a voice boomed from it, “Artificial Humans Daneel, Az, Mish and Han please board this ship under orders from Malacondran Mayor Angaleese Turin, your owner.”
The ‘bug didn’t move or speak. Neither did they. Finally DaneelAH asked, “Where are we going?”
The ‘bug boomed, “Outpost Cydonia.”
“We’re going to the Face On Mars?” MishAH exclaimed.
“The Face On Mars?” DaneelAH exclaimed.
A soft voice hissed from inside, “The Face On Mars…”

October 3, 2010

WRITING ADVICE: Nathan Bransford 8 – Lasagna: How To Write a Non-Fiction Book Proposal

Nathan Bransford is a West Coast agent with the New York literary agency, Curtis Brown, Ltd. For the past nine years, he has been writing a popular blog reflecting on and illuminating the publishing world. Humorous, serious and ultimately enlightening, I’ll be looking at how THE ESSENTIALS (PLEASE READ BEFORE YOU QUERY) continues to influence my writing. I am using them with his permission and if you’d like to read his blog (which I highly recommend) go to http://blog.nathanbransford.com/.

To tell you the truth, I was going to skip this one because I don’t LIKE doing non-fiction. I don’t like reading non-fiction (*sigh*, all right, I don’t like reading non-fiction VERY OFTEN…OK, OK, so the book before the last book I read was a non-fiction book about the last year of a high school college guidance counselor called ACCEPTANCE: A Legendary Guidance Counselor Helps Seven Kids Find A College – and Find Themselves by David Marcus (http://search.barnesandnoble.com/Acceptance/David-L-Marcus/e/9781594202148)

ANYWAY…quit trying to distract me. I still want to skip this one and move on to the next subject, “Ten Commandments for Happy Writers”. That way I don’t have to talk about my success in writing non-fiction.

So my first book, which is still in print, was called Simple Science Sermons for Big and Little Kids. It is a collection of twenty-five kids’ sermons I used at my church that used some sort of science experiment to illustrate a truth of Scripture. I provided a Bible verse, a short script, the equipment/materials needed and directions. I also gave a brief explanation of HOW the science part worked.

To sell that one, I had the complete manuscript in hand, shopped it around and found a buyer the third time out. I will not deceive you – I took a rip-off deal that first time mostly because people are more impressed with books than they are with magazine articles or stories. The company’s initial $6000 investment; which included a check for $100 [When I asked for more, the reply letter essentially said that I was lucky to get that from them as this kind of book would never make any money and that I should count my lucky stars that they were willing to take pity on me and publish it], has been amply earned back in the twelve years since publication. Besides, the rights would revert to me when they were done making whatever pitiful amount of money they would probably make off it. The rights have yet to revert. I’ve asked. (I later looked at the cost of self-publishing it and this was what I would have had to front for the book). Their promise was supposed to have included a publicity packet that never materialized though I asked for it several times and also got several rude replies from the president of the company when I questioned their business practices.

They are still in business and I am much wiser now.

That initial contact was fairly straightforward in that I asked if they wanted to publish the book. I had the platform necessary to move some copies – I was a science teacher and I did these SSS at several churches each year. They said…well, the synopsis is above.

The next time I stumped for a non-fiction job, I was offered a work-for-hire and was part of a team that developed curriculum for a very, very popular PBS program called NEWTON’S APPLE. That was published and I moved on to AUGSBURG-FORTRESS and did a bit more work-for-hire via a recommendation from a friend.

I few years later, I got brave and actually sent a proposal to an on-line children’s magazine I had had a story published in. Some time after the publication, they announced that I and a few other writers would be included in a paper collection they were making. Not long after seeing that, I sent them an email (I CANNOT find the original! Grrrr.) pointing out that an activity book would go well with their anthology and that I would be the perfect person to write it!

They agreed, commissioned me and for $200, I worked on this labor of love. I KNEW this group couldn’t afford more than that, so I was happy to do it. The product went back and forth a few times until it was ready. They were thrilled. I was thrilled.

The economy tanked.

They offered me a $100 kill fee, which I took. I also took a copy of the activities book…which I can no longer find, so I’ll need to ask for another. But anyway – the upshot of this and what I learned from Nathan Bransford’s article is that: “writing a nonfiction book proposal is sort of like cooking lasagna. There are a thousand ways of making it, everyone has their own recipe, but most every lasagna will have a few basic ingredients and chances are it's going to taste good in the end.

So there you go. If I find my original query letters, I’ll post them or a link to them, but like Nathan Bransford says, “Lasagna!”

image: http://fooduniverse.org/wp-content/uploads/2010/07/Lasagna.jpg