May 31, 2011

IDEAS ON TUESDAY 15: What If Your Middle School or Junior High School Was REALLY Important?


Each Tuesday, rather than a POSSIBLY IRRITATING ESSAY, I'd like to both challenge you and lend a helping hand. I generate more speculative and teen story ideas than I can ever use. My family rolls its collective eyes when I say, "Hang on a second! I just have to write down this idea..." Here, I'll include the initial inspiration (quote, website, podcast, etc) and then a thought or two that came to mind. These will simply be seeds -- plant, nurture, fertilize, chemically treat, irradiate, test or stress them as you see fit. I only ask if you let me know if anything comes of them.

NOBODY thinks their middle school or junior high is important. The time you spend there is usually something you want to forget – all those zits, puberty, tripping over nothing, cracking voices and awkwardness. Life is complicated enough just with what’s going on in school – then you add problems with PARENTS. It’s like, you got along with them just fine until you turned 12 – then suddenly they’re like…IDIOTS and trying to spy on everything you do from who you text to who you hang with Saturday night.


But what if YOUR middle was really important? Read this article: http://www.weird-encyclopedia.com/ley-lines.php and write a short story in which you and your friends are gonna meet at the Winter Break Dance and hide in the school. You’ve heard how the school is “haunted” (like anyone in the 21st Century would believe anything like that!) Of COURSE it’s haunted, that’s what the eighth or ninth graders always tell the underclassmen! You’re a seventh grader and you know all about the stories. You and your best dude and dudette (whom you DON’T LIKE THAT WAY!) manage to sneak into the science lab where you hide under the lab tables until the hallway lights go out.


That’s when something weird starts to happen; something that apparently connects historical points in your state to other things in other places in straight lines…and the school lays at the very center of a pentagram of ley lines…


May 29, 2011

WRITING ADVICE: Mike Duran #9 – Why Science Fiction Embraces Religion but Science Doesn’t

I have never seen Mike Duran. We “met” online a couple years ago because of a little…altercation I caused by saying something less-than-nice about Christian speculative fiction on his blog. Mike, being both a specfic writer and editor, won me closer to his side with gentle and wise words. Since then I’ve found that Mike has lots of gentle and wise words. I’m looking at how some of them have had an impact on my own writing in these WRITING ADVICE posts. (Quotes are used with his permission.) He also participates in “ONE OF WRITER'S DIGEST 101 MOST VALUABLE WEBSITES FOR WRITERS, 2008 & 2010”, NOVEL JOURNEY athttp://noveljourney.blogspot.com/. The original article for THIS entry is here: http://mikeduran.com/?p=5656

I believe that science with an insistence on the near-certain probability of extraterrestrial life and Christianity with an insistence on the near-certain probability of salvation through Christ alone; have more in common than either would dare acknowledge.

I have been a science teacher in public middle and high schools for 32 years in programs for the gifted, English Language Learners and special education students. I have taught sciences quite literally, from astronomy to zoology.

I majored in biology at a public university in Minnesota.

I have been reading science fiction since I was 12.

I am a science geek who has a subscription to POPULAR SCIENCE and who regularly reads online SCIENCE NEWS and SCIENCE NEWS FOR KIDS (so I can understand new concepts and ideas before I read more). I occasionally read SCIENTIFIC AMERICAN and I sometimes skim through patents on GOOGLE PATENT (I’ll bet you didn’t even know there was such a site!) to see what people are trying to invent.

I am a moderately intelligent person.

I am also a Christian.

For decades, I have exposed myself to people who say things like, “I love that they have the [science fiction, fantasy, horror, speculative fiction] Convention on Easter weekend – it keeps the Christians away!” and “People like you murdered my people for no reason but that they were different,” and was regularly required to show a movie called Galileo: The Challenge of Reason (in this movie, the Church is the enemy, ruthlessly crushing Galileo’s astronomical discoveries and his heliocentric theory of the Solar System; it briefly mentions that the Church is a proponent of Aristotelian natural philosophy and holds his theories to be truth. What it covers up, intentionally obscures and ignores is that at the time of Galileo, Aristotle’s view of the universe was good science and the viewpoint held by most scientists – not just the Church, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QcHgfjAs-0w for a clip. It depicts old, arrogant clergy and a wise, amusing, young and dashing Galileo. Of course.)

I believe I am qualified to comment on the state of “religion and science”.

With a science fiction short story involving a Mormon missionary the winner of the 2011 Nebula (science fiction’s Academy Award) and on the 2011 Hugo ballot (science fiction’s Emmy); with the overwhelmingly Zen Buddhist philosophy of the DUNE books; with the flaying of the Catholic Church in the SAFEHOLD series; I think that science fiction has less interest in “religion” than it has a consuming interest in promoting anything that isn’t Christianity. This has gone so far as a science fiction writer who created a philosophy called Dianetics that led to a religion Scientology.

Mike Duran asks, “But whether it’s Lucas’ Force or Avatar’s Eywa, Dune’s messiah or E.T.’s transcendent aliens, science fiction has boldly explored the divine. Which leads me to this question: Why is it that while most scientists appear to be agnostic or atheist, so much science fiction employs and embraces religion?and answers himself as well, “…real science has NOT uncovered significant proof of God…”

This is inescapable because God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit are not provable – our only evidence that Jesus existed has never been argued by historians, nor is it disputed by scientists. What IS disputed is who and what Jesus was and is.

In fact, Scripture isn’t at all interested in proving itself. Hebrews 11:1 states: “Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see. This is what the ancients were commended for. By faith we understand that the universe was formed at God’s command, so that what is seen was not made out of what was visible.” This says nothing about “…by scientific evidence we understand…”.

I know countless people who proclaim that there is no conflict between science and faith.

I believe that they ignore reality.

Faith doesn’t require proof and it DIDN’T require proof – faith isn’t scientific. Experimentation is science and neither Mike Duran nor CERN (French phrase for the disbanded Conseil Européen pour la Recherche Nucléaire) can prove faith.

By the same token, scientists have profound faith in things for which there is absolutely no proof at all.

Ignoring the doctrine of the scientific method that ALL science has to be both provable and the experiments that prove a theory repeatable, most agnostic and atheist scientists have a deep faith in “extraterrestrial life”. Though it is a doctrine of science and a tenet of evolution, thus far, it has absolutely no incontrovertible evidence nor does any scientist or institution exhibit a shred of proof – yet scientists antagonistic to Christianity propound on their deep belief that extraterrestrial life is a virtual certainty. Stephen Hawking who has recently blasted Christianity (as well as Judaism, Islam and any other religion that believes in a god of any sort), has this to say about extraterrestrial life: “…extraterrestrials would probably be far in advance of us. The history of advanced races meeting more primitive people on this planet is not very happy, and they were the same species. I think we should keep our heads low…” (Stephen Hawking, Naked Science: Alien Contact, The National Geographic Channel)

Science fiction writers by writing about aliens in their myriad ways, have created a philosophy of extraterrestrial life; an Aristotelian philosophy, if you will, that brooks no disagreement – because it’s impossible to prove or disprove the existence of intelligent (or UNintelligent) alien life. It is an article of faith.

It’s my belief that science and Christianity have more in common than either would dare admit…

Image: http://i80.photobucket.com/albums/j182/swiftian/022707/testtubejesus4.jpg

May 26, 2011

A SHORT LONG JOURNEY NORTH 26: July 14, 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 things I've always wondered about 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.

Tommy Hastings and Freddie Merrill stared after Charlie and Mr. Fairlaine as they disappeared into the LAND-O-LAKES shed.

Freddie said, “Now what do we do?”

Tommy sighed, looked at the shed and then back out to the street. “I guess we go back down to Lake Superior.”

“What then?”

“We find the place Ma worked. Maybe somebody’ll remember her. Maybe some of my cousins are around or something.”

Freddie looked at him and said, “That’s your plan?”

Tommy shrugged, not looking at Freddie, and said, “I guess. Unless you got a better one.”

“I wasn’t the one that started us on this crazy trip.”

“You coulda stayed back in Minneapolis. I didn’t tell you to come.”

“I couldn’t of stayed!”

“Yeah, you could. I didn’t make you do nothing.”

Both boys fell silent. Then Tommy said, “I’m going down to the lake. If you want, come with. If you don’t want to, don’t. See if I care.” Tommy started walking then when he reached the sidewalk, turned downhill, heading down into Duluth.

Freddie shouted after him, “If you leave me here, I’m just gonna go back home!”

Tommy turned and shouted, “Fine then! I didn’t want you here anyway!”

“Fine then! I didn’t want to be here!”

“Yeah? You wanted to be back home with your drunken old man!”

Freddie roared and raced across the gravel lot. Tommy lit out downhill, running with all his might. Freddie was smaller and faster, though Tommy’d whooped him more than a few times when it came to a fistfight.

But Freddie was fast.

He was also mad.

The boys ran, neither one taunting now. Pretty soon, neither one was paying any attention to their fight…they were trying to slow down the headlong dive they’d taken into the city. At first, Tommy tried to simply stop but almost ran into a lamppost, barely swerving out of the way.

Freddie leaped over a cat that ran in front of him and he cried, “Bad luck!”

By the time they finally stopped, both boys stood in an alley, their backs to the wall of a hardware store, panting, shaking and gulping air. Finally, Tommy managed, “Come with me?”

Freddie nodded, “Yup.”

Several more minutes passed before they stood straight and peeked around the corner. Freddie said, “Any farther and we’d a ended up jumpin’ in the lake.”

“Probably bounce off a ore boat.”

“And get chopped up by the propeller.”

“Yup,” Tommy said then stepped out of the alley. “Mr. Fairlaine said we should go up to North Shore Drive, right?”

“Yup,” said Freddie. “But where’s that?”

“Figure it’s gotta be north,” Tommy said. Freddie nodded. “So that means we go left.”

“What street do we turn on?”

“I reckon it’ll be the one closest to Superior.”

Freddie nodded and stepped out beside Tommy, waiting. Finally Tommy nodded and set off down the sidewalk – both of the boys walking much slower than before.

Image: http://www.artvalue.com/photos/auction/0/48/48614/lyon-harold-lloyd-1930-canada-boy-chasing-a-ball-2671121.jpg

May 24, 2011

Ideas on Tuesday 14: NOT National Lampoon’s Teenage Vacation

Each Tuesday, rather than a POSSIBLY IRRITATING ESSAY, I'd like to both challenge you and lend a helping hand. I generate more speculative and teen story ideas than I can ever use. My family rolls its collective eyes when I say, "Hang on a second! I just have to write down this idea..." Here, I'll include the initial inspiration (quote, website, podcast, etc) and then a thought or two that came to mind. These will simply be seeds -- plant, nurture, fertilize, chemically treat, irradiate, test or stress them as you see fit. I only ask if you let me know if anything comes of them.

This is a BIZARRE idea, but vacations are places where really exciting things happen in lots and lots of YA/teen books, though it usually has something to do with beaches, bikinis and suntan slathered male bodies and how the one relentlessly pursues the other (the bikinis and slathered bodies; though the BEACH pursuing both might make an interesting horror novel…) (http://io9.com/5801452/your-next-ocean-vacation-could-be-on-an-abandoned-oil-platform).

So we have a buncha bored teens (aren’t they ALL bored…or nerds?) with their wealthy parents on vacation. Of COURSE, they get into the usual trouble pursuing beaches and each other. During one of these hot, hot make out sessions on a lower deck of the platform that has had minimal “vacation primping”, a light appears underwater and pretty soon a UFO hovers over the lower deck of the platform. Shaped like the ship from THE INVADERS, a door opens and a ramp extends. NO! there are no aliens inside! But there IS a black rectangle of seething nothing…

image: http://jobacts.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/06/oil-rig.jpg

May 23, 2011

May 22, 2011

Slice of PIE: Personal Publishing Prophecies…

I don’t know how most of you view “prophecy”, especially when it’s spoken over an individual. I certainly know what I think of prophecy most of the time…I won’t elaborate, ‘cause that’s not what this Slice of PIE is about. Let it suffice to say that I’m unsure of how real contemporary prophecies are.

That’s why I hesitate to broach this subject, but feel a strong inclination to do it anyway.

So, ^deep breath^ and I’ll begin with a quote from a blog by an online friend of mine, Mike Duran: “As much as I remain conflicted, there are three ways I’ve come to believe a person can determine whether or not they’re called to write: 1) Do you have the raw talent to write? 2) ‘…only…those who say, “I’m not going to do anything else.” Do you have that kind of drive? 3) Do you have evidence from peers and professionals that you are ‘called’ to write?”

Determining that “call” on my life has taken a sizeable chunk of my “wondering about it” mental energy. I wonder if I’m just wasting my time. I wonder if I’ve been wasting the family’s money. I wonder if I’m inflating my ego beyond the “maniac” level. I wonder why God doesn’t bless me with more sales or an agent or a contract or a book or a series. I wonder, I wonder, I wonder…

So I went back to a series of prophecies that have been spoken over me during the past few years. I’m going to type them out verbatim then look at them individually, then look at them collectively.

First clear prophecy about my writing: a guest speaker at our youth retreat, well-known for her prophetic words (whatever that means), came to me on the night of February 15, 2004 and spoke two words: “longings fulfilled”.

The second time was on February 12, 2005, I spoke with the same woman (because OBVIOUSLY nothing had come of her two words!) and she had these words for me, “You are a wonderful teacher and God has you where you are because He wants you there now. You fear is that you have missed or will miss the opportunity to become a full-time writer. My ministry didn’t start until I was 54. Your writing will start later, but it will start in God’s time.”

The third incident/word was on March 11, 2005. Liz said to me that she felt right then and had always believed that we would earn our living by my writing someday.

The fourth and last prophecy came about on May 10, 2006. After sharing with the congregation that I had taken the word of Christ to the mission field of speculative fiction fans at 2006 MiniCon. That leading came about as a result of prayer and fasting during our church’s Lenten discipline of prayer, sermons and groups performing public service projects. Afterwards, Todd Wallace called the congregation forward to pray over me. Sixty people stepped up, prayed over my success, believed that my witness would be as Jabez, “‘…Oh that you would bless me indeed, and enlarge my border, and that your hand might be with me, and that you would keep me from evil that it not be to my sorrow!’ God granted him that which he requested.” 1 Chronicles 4:9-10

Todd prayed and asked that my witness would not only be blessed, but “ASTOUNDING”. It’s unclear if Todd knew exactly how that word is significant to me – but ASTOUNDING was the name of my favorite science fiction magazine, ANALOG.

So what does that mean here in good old, 2011?

I don’t know for sure, but according to my records, my average sales percentage from when I began to keep records in 1990 through 2005, was 3.35%. Since the prayers, my average sales percentage from 2006-2010, was 11.974%.

image: http://vintageprintable.com/wordpress/wp-content/uploads/2010/08/Printed-matter-Book-cover-Astounding_Science_Fiction-5-6-215x300.jpg

May 17, 2011

Ideas on Tuesday 13: Aliens Over Earth

Each Tuesday, rather than a POSSIBLY IRRITATING ESSAY, I'd like to both challenge you and lend a helping hand. I generate more speculative and teen story ideas than I can ever use. My family rolls its collective eyes when I say, "Hang on a second! I just have to write down this idea..." Here, I'll include the initial inspiration (quote, website, podcast, etc) and then a thought or two that came to mind. These will simply be seeds -- plant, nurture, fertilize, chemically treat, irradiate, test or stress them as you see fit. I only ask if you let me know if anything comes of them.

Piggybacking on last week’s idea regarding the Terracotta Army of Xi’an, China (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Terracotta_Army), I thought of another. What if an international team discovers a small group of four “soldiers” recently unearthed, and those statues are clearly not human, but some sort of fantastic creatures? Closer examination reveals that while three of them were made of the same materials as the rest of the Army and are hollow – the fourth one contains a skeleton which, when it’s examined, proves to be REAL? And what if an alien starship appears, hovering over Earth?

image:http://farm4.static.flickr.com/3494/4062534633_6c514bb345.jpg

May 15, 2011

POSSIBLY IRRITATING ESSAY: The Death of Anthropogenic Global Warming

I’ve noticed recently that no one in America is talking about global warming – Anthropogenic (literally: anthropo = man [as in anthropology]; genic = produce, beget, be born [as in Genesis]) or Cyclical (literally: circular [implying “it happens regularly”]).

Most likely, it’s become too hot a topic that some members of the scientific community have shifted from making sweeping generalizations to more generic, safer sound bytes that are harder to argue with, ie – “climate change”.

There is of course, a more sinister possibility. It may be that the AGWs (proponents of Anthropogenic Global Warming) have fallen into mild disarray and with the membership creating documents that contradict the party line and no way to reign them back in, have fallen back to a more tenable position claiming, “The climate is changing” rather than the more headline-grabbing “Humanity has changed the global climate and we’re headed for disaster unless we do something about it right now!”

I have been corrected by no less than five people after saying something about “global warming”! More than one of them then added, “It’s called ‘climate change’ now, Dad.”

My prediction is that the phrase “global warming” will now disappear, as did the 1950’s phrase “global cooling”. With the full knowledge that Wikipedia is at best a gateway tool, I am going to take my quotes and information for all three phrases (adding “climate change”) from their corresponding Wiki articles (see references below).

According to the article on global cooling, that whole thing came about because people were stupid, misinformed and gullible. (“…gained temporary popular attention due to a combination of press reports that did not accurately reflect the scientific understanding of ice age cycles, and a slight downward trend of temperatures from the 1940s to the early 1970s.” and “…the popular press the possibility of cooling was reported generally without the caveats present in the scientific reports.”). It was them media’s fault and had NOTHING to do with scientists of any stripe and even if it did, they were stupid, too and didn’t know what they were talking about” (… the knowledge necessary for understanding the mechanism of climate change is still lamentably inadequate," and “Before such questions as these can be resolved, major advances must be made in understanding the chemistry and physics of the atmosphere and oceans, and in measuring and tracing particulates through the system.”)

Fortunately, in the intervening forty years (ignore the fact that AGW was proposed in the early 00’s and the final death wheezes of global cooling were in the late 70’s making it a mere 20 years later…), science has made stupendous advances and can now speak with a complete understanding and a perfectly united voice because the evidence for global warming is incontrovertible, inarguable and without dissent (by ALL the smart people on the planet; ie, there are no smart people in the US): “The scientific consensus is that global warming is occurring and is mostly the result of human activity. This finding is recognized by the national science academies of all the major industrialized countries and is not rejected by any scientific body of national or international standing. According to a recent Gallup poll, people in most countries are more likely to attribute global warming to human activities than to natural causes. The major exception is the U.S., where nearly half of the population (the largest percentage of any country) attributes global warming to natural causes.”

Dumb Americans; it’s probably just like that metric system thing – all we measure in metric units is bottle of soda. Oh, and medication. And car and bike tools. And track meets. (Meh – we’ll get there.) We don’t know nothin’! Except for our scientists, who are the best on the planet. According to Wikipedia at least, the only people who matter on Earth (I wonder if most of them still use the Mercator Projection world map, too) are EuroAmericans: “Over a third of the world's population was unaware of global warming, with people in developing countries less aware than those in developed, and those in Africa the least aware. Of those aware, Latin America leads in belief that temperature changes are a result of human activities while Africa, parts of Asia and the Middle East, and a few countries from the Former Soviet Union lead in the opposite belief. In the Western world, opinions over the concept and the appropriate responses are divided…‘results show the different stages of engagement about global warming on each side of the Atlantic’, adding, ‘The debate in Europe is about what action needs to be taken, while many in the U.S. still debate whether climate change is happening.’”

You know, aside from the fact that the two statements above contradict each other (that’s Wiki for ya), this whole event is starting to become clear to me…

The new catchphrase, “climate change” has its own Wiki, too: “Climate change is a long-term change in the statistical distribution of weather patterns over periods of time that range from decades to millions of years. It may be a change in the average weather conditions, or in a change of the distribution of events around that average (e.g., more or fewer extreme weather events). Climate change may be limited to a specific region, or may occur across the whole Earth.” (Ten years seems an awfully SHORT amount of time from which to draw conclusions of climate change. To me, “climate” implied a long-term, Human-lifetime-unchanging kind of thing.)

By definition, climate is the “general or average weather conditions of a certain region, including temperature, rainfall, and wind. On Earth, climate is most affected by latitude, the tilt of the Earth’s axis, the movements of Earth’s wind belts, the difference in temperatures of land and sea, and topography. Human activity, especially relating to actions relating to the depletion of the ozone layer, is also an important factor.”

The American Heritage® Science Dictionary
Copyright © 2002. Published by Houghton Mifflin. All rights reserved. (I sorta wonder if that last sentence was in the 1995 edition of the Dictionary. It seems somewhat klunky to have been around very long.)

My point in all of the above is that I think the new god of Anthropogenic Global Warming is dying and the ranks of its accompanying priesthood who have been propping up their new version of Humanity Is God (in my MARTIAN HOLIDAY stories, I’ve given it the name United Faith in Humanity) are finding their believers converting to other religions in droves.

I believe that the climate is changing. Nothing on Earth is eternal, of COURSE it’s changing – the where and why are coming clear and certainly Humans contribute to the change.

But the incredible hubris of a scientific community that first believes that the same community twenty, thirty or forty years ago had no idea what was going on – and that the current community has got it all nailed down and tight – is stunningly egocentric and myopic. “While much remains to be learned, the core phenomenon, scientific questions, and hypotheses have been examined thoroughly and have stood firm in the face of serious scientific debate and careful evaluation of alternative explanations,” [United States National Research Council].

I believe the scientific community of Alfred Wegener’s time said much the same thing about continental drift…

REFERENCES

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Climate_change

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Global_warming

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Global_cooling

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Continental_drift

image: http://www.lpi.usra.edu/education/explore/solar_system/images/earth.jpg

May 13, 2011

THE RECONSTRUCTION OF MAI LI HASTINGS 25

I read the play version of Daniel Keyes’ FLOWERS FOR ALGERNON when I was in eighth grade. It has stayed with me for decades, a haunting 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 three pages back until you get to the bottom.

CJ Hastings stopped at the bottom of the stoop, freezing and whispered, “What’s wrong with her?”

“I…I…don’t know…” she stepped aside and pantomimed for CJ to go into the house.

“Where is she?” CJ said then shouted, “Mai Li? Mai!”

“She’s in your bedroom downstairs,” Mom said softly.

He was too stunned to move, then bolted into the kitchen and down the stairs…

At the bottom of the stairs, Mai Li stood, looking up at him, her face lit by the glare of the light bulb. “Hey, little idiot! How you doin’?” CJ blinked seven times. Mai Li said, “Still mute, I hear?”

“What are you doing here?”

She shrugged, “I missed you both – rapier wits, sparkling dinner table conversation, exchange of ideas and late-night discussions of esoteric philosophies.”

The words would have made CJ cry if she hadn’t swayed and collapsed suddenly. “Mai Li!” he screamed and all but leaped down the steps. Mom was next to him an instant later on the phone with 911. The floorboards overhead creaked.

Before they could stand up, a team of paramedics appeared at the top of the stairs. They started down as the lead called, “Step back please or we’ll be forced to bring in the police!”

CJ’s Mom spun and snapped, “Where’s Doctor Chazhukaran?”

The paramedic stopped and said, “Excuse me?”

“You’re not paramedics.”

“Excuse me?”

“I just called 911. You were already in the house, so you’re not responding to that. Dr…” she looked at CJ and asked, “What do you call him?”

“Dr. Douchebag?”

“That’s it.” She looked back up the steps, “Dr. Douchebag has been calling all week, begging me to call him the instant Mai Li showed. I figure he had the house watched – and then couldn’t hold his bladder and sent you in too early.”

“Who are you…”

The floorboards overhead creaked again. Mom pointed at the ceiling and said, “Those are the real paramedics, so you can leave and tell Dr. Douchebag that he’ll be hearing from my lawyer.” The real paramedics pushed the fake ones aside and barreled down the stairs.

The first one turned to CJ’s Mom and began to ask questions. The fakes slunk up the stairs as the real ones got to work. The cot appeared at the top as well then somehow found its way down to them and Mai Li was on it shortly. They hauled it up, the first one still questioning Mom. They were down the hall and then suddenly stopped.

CJ slipped around them by ducking under the cot’s bed where Mai Li lay, an oxygen mask over her mouth. The first thing he saw was the ambulance, its lights still flashing, sitting in the driveway.

Then he saw the police cars – plural. There were six. “Mom? There’s six police cars out here.”

The real paramedics stopped with the cot halfway out the door.

That was probably because the officers had large and small guns aimed at the house. There was even a troop transport back down the block some. Dr. Chazhukaran stepped between them. He was dressed in a complete hazardous materials suit as he strode up to the house. Stopping, he said, voice filtered through the speaker – and CJ noticed it was hugely amplified – “You’re all under quarantine.”

image: http://www.editinternational.com/images/gallery/mc-the-step_low.jpg

May 10, 2011

Ideas on Tuesday 12: The Strangest Army on Earth


Each Tuesday, rather than a POSSIBLY IRRITATING ESSAY, I'd like to both challenge you and lend a helping hand. I generate more speculative and teen story ideas than I can ever use. My family rolls its collective eyes when I say, "Hang on a second! I just have to write down this idea..." Here, I'll include the initial inspiration (quote, website, podcast, etc) and then a thought or two that came to mind. These will simply be seeds -- plant, nurture, fertilize, chemically treat, irradiate, test or stress them as you see fit. I only ask if you let me know if anything comes of them.
I know this is just a wiki, but this idea was inspired by a former student of mine who became a physics teacher and is currently teaching in China. He visited this site several weeks ago and has posted pictures on Facebook. His pictures of this army came up recently and though I couldn’t link directly to his Facebook, I linked here:

It got me thinking – if there are some 8000 pieces (and about as many are still buried)…what if the mother of a teenager was working as part of an international team and uncovered something unusual (not that a standing army of 16,000 horses, soldiers, acrobats and various and sundry other “people” isn’t unusual enough!) What if she discovered a unique figure, say a woman that has been knocked down and is crying out in terror, with her arm upraised as a man draws back a spear and is obviously about to run her through…is there a curse on this piece that comes to haunt the teen and their mom? Or is it case for a forensic anthropologist (or would it be, more appropriately a forensic terracottaist) and was a MURDER involved which someone commemorated? Who did the commemorating, who was the perpetrator – and what if it had a connection to the present?

May 8, 2011

WRITING ADVICE – Mike Duran #8: What’s Your Brand?

I have never seen Mike Duran. We “met” online a couple years ago because of a little…altercation I caused by saying something less-than-nice about Christian speculative fiction on his blog. Mike, being both a specfic writer and editor, won me closer to his side with gentle and wise words. Since then I’ve found that Mike has lots of gentle and wise words. I’m looking at how some of them have had an impact on my own writing in these WRITING ADVICE posts. (Quotes are used with his permission.) He also participates in “ONE OF WRITER'S DIGEST 101 MOST VALUABLE WEBSITES FOR WRITERS, 2008 & 2010”, NOVEL JOURNEY at http://noveljourney.blogspot.com/. The original article for THIS entry is here: http://mikeduran.com/?p=7153

I’ve known my brand for a long time: science fiction.

However, along the way, I’ve become…diversified. HOW it happened, I’ve iterated at another blog I write for (http://thefridaychallenge.blogspot.com/2011/04/writing-for-young-adultsteens-and.html). I’m pretty sure I’m going to stay this way, despite what some people say. I’m going to let Mike Duran stand in the place of those who advocate for the importance of focusing on a genre or style or formula for writing.

Mike Duran says, “One question that’s often asked when defining one’s brand is: Who is your ideal reader? And we need specifics here, folks. What is their ethnicity, gender, and age? Where do they buy their clothes? Do they sport tattoos? Have they attended college? What other authors do they like? And what attracts them to your writing? Which leads me to the following (and rather perfectly timed), question:

“‘Why are you reading this?’

“How you answer that question not only helps me determine what my brand might be, it probably says something about yours as well….What’s your brand? Is it something you have set out to craft? Or do you think this ‘branding’ stuff is a bunch of hoakem?”

My vote will be for “bunch of hoakem”.

I have come to believe that “brand” can be something deeper than what Mike is talking about – where Mike sees it in the “trees”, I see it in the “forest”. Where he looks for detail, I’m going to craft in whole. Of course, I’m no expert – but I’ve been a huge fan of one aspect of a person who might qualify. The part I have read and respect goes by other names that will be familiar to people who read OTHER kinds of fiction: Kris Rusch, Kris Nelscott, Kristine Grayson, Sandy Schofield, and Kathryn Wesley. These are all one in the same person – Kristine Kathryn Rusch. Under this name not only does she write science fiction, she was the editor of The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction for six years. She is clearly a speculative fiction genre writer.

But by her other incarnations, she writes different BRANDS – general fiction, mysteries and romances and with her husband they use a composite name when they write media tie-ins like STAR TREK, ALIENS and PREDATOR.

So either Kristine Kathryn Rusch knows what she’s doing – or she suffers from a severe case of schizophrenia. What she seems to be doing is answering the question: “I just read this really fascinating article/book or talked with this interesting person – now, how would that scenario play out as a romance or a fantasy or science fiction or mystery?” She appears to continually wonder “what if?” Because of this way of thinking, she frequently mixes genres, “I didn’t know what a genre was until Kevin. J. Anderson explained it to me in college, so I mix genres because I mix them when I read. And writers are influenced by what they read, you know.” (http://www.graspingforthewind.com/2011/04/07/sffwrtcht-a-chat-with-author-kristine-kathryn-rusch/)

After reading her science fiction and fantasy novels for years, I tend to think she knows what she’s doing (her current book is #39,315 out of like 2.5 million or more) and I’m planning on moving out the same way. I’ll use pseudonyms for my science fiction and fantasy, my children’s books and my young adult contemporary or historical fiction and a Christian fiction series I’m working on – maybe Guy Stewart, G. James Stewart, GJ Stewart and Elizabeth R. Stewart. Who knows?

As to what my theme will be, there seems to be only one that I have ever cared about. I will always explore how my characters share or experience the love of the Father God, the Son Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit.

No hoakem there!

Image: http://www.samyasolutions.com/images/branding.jpg

May 6, 2011

A SHORT LONG JOURNEY NORTH 25: July 14, 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 things I've always wondered about 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.

Mr. Fairlaine stayed awake the rest of the time and came to a stop just outside of the city of Duluth.

Tommy Hastings’ eyes bugged out as he said, “Is that the ocean?”

Freddie Merrill, Charlie Fairlaine busted out laughing. Mr. Fairlaine muttered, “Idiot.” He floored the accelerator. “Ain’t you ever seen Lake Superior boy?”

Tommy cringed from the tone of the man’s voice. Tommy managed to say, “No, Sir,” after Charlie shot him a dirty look.

Charlie laughed and said, “Lake’s so big, you gotta watch out for sharks!”

“I ain’t stupid. Shark’s live in the ocean.”

“You sure about that,” Charlie asked, arching an eyebrow.

Tommy kept a sulky silence until Mr. Fairlaine ground the gears of the tanker and they started down the long highway that led to the lake far below.

All three boys made noises of amazement when the massive aerial lift bridge started to rise up. “It looks like it was made from an Erector Set™!” Freddie exclaimed.

A long, giant ore boat, red rusty, massive and riding very low in the water. Mr. Fairlaine growled, “Not a swimming lake, boys. Colder than…” he snapped his jaw shut. They’d reached the outskirts of the city by then and passed the lift bridge.

“Everything’s so huge,” Freddie said.

“Not feelin’ carsick anymore?” Charlie asked, digging his elbow into Freddie’s ribs.

Freddie looked startled and said, “Not at all.”

The older boy said, “Sick is all in your head.”

Scowling, Freddie went back to staring at the ore boat as they passed it and came to the train station. A locomotive and coal tender faced south with four passenger cars and a long line of boxcars dumped clouds of steam into the morning air. “Were do you think that’s going?”

“Probably Hinckley then to St. Paul, Texas, New York and Los Angeles,” said Mr. Fairlaine as he turned the tanker left, ground the gears and headed uphill.

“Where are we going?” Freddie exclaimed, turning to keep his eyes on the train.

“Sit yourself still, boy! We’re going to the dairy – where else?” Tommy hunkered down. Mr. Fairlaine obviously hated him. The less he said the better. But he hadn’t even told Freddie the notion he’d got into his head somewhere around Milaca. It was something he’d thought about once or twice at home, ‘cause Mom had said she had family up in Duluth – but never said who when he asked.

Finally, he said softly, “I’ve got kin up here. Cousins for sure. I think.”

Mr. Fairlaine glared down at him. Charlie spoke up, “What? Don’t your Ma know who your relatives are?”

He shrugged. “She doesn’t say when I ask. I just know they’re up here somewhere.”

“Why don’t you ask your grandma and grandpa?”

“Don’t have any that I know of.”

“Everybody’s got grandparents,” Mr. Fairlaine said.

Tommy shrugged. “I never saw them.”

Freddie leaned forward, looking past Charlie and said, “That’s what we came up here for? To find your family?”

Tommy shrugged but shook his head, “Not really. I didn’t think about it until later – the night we…” he’d been about to say ‘The night we met the witch, the mobsters and the farmer’, but a quick glance at Mr. Fairlaine made him say, “…slept on the beach at Mille Lacs.”

They rode in silence the rest of the way up the hill then Mr. Fairlaine turned the tanker into a wide gravel lot. Two huge metal towers with the words LAND-O-LAKES stood to one side. Three other tank trucks sat parked to one side while another sat in front of one of the towers. Mr. Fairlaine stopped the truck, looked around the lot then got out, dropping down to the ground.

Freddie couldn’t get the door open, so Charlie had to reach across and let them both out. Mr. Fairlaine looked up at Tommy and said, “You gonna get out or just sit there like an idiot?”

“Getting out, Sir,” Tommy said and slid across the seat, which was slippery and damp from sweat. He pitched forward and Mr. Fairlaine caught him, quickly letting go when Tommy was steady.

“You’d best get going,” he said and turned his back on them, calling, “Let’s get going, Charlie! No time to dawdle!” He strode across the gravel lot, heading for a large shed. The older boy hurried after his father.

Freddie, standing next to the truck, shouted, “Where are we supposed to go?”

Mr. Fairlaine stopped, turned and called back, “Lots of your socialist friends down on North Shore Drive.” He turned away, grabbed Charlie by the sleeve and left the boys standing in the gravel lot.

image: http://www.iceandcoal.org/bridges/newsimages/aerialliftbridge300x185.jpg

May 3, 2011

Ideas on Tuesday 11: The Abandoned London Underground…How CLICHÉ!


Each Tuesday, rather than a POSSIBLY IRRITATING ESSAY, I'd like to both challenge you and lend a helping hand. I generate more speculative and teen story ideas than I can ever use. My family rolls its collective eyes when I say, "Hang on a second! I just have to write down this idea..." Here, I'll include the initial inspiration (quote, website, podcast, etc) and then a thought or two that came to mind. These will simply be seeds -- plant, nurture, fertilize, chemically treat, irradiate, test or stress them as you see fit. I only ask if you let me know if anything comes of them.
The fantasy implications are endless – and they’ve already been done. Can’t we come up with something ORIGINAL? How about something dodgy: a story in which one teen opens a door leading off main tunnel that led to a dungeon, prison cell or jail from some significant moment in time – and to a key person for whom, if exactly ONE thing had been different, history would have been changed? Call it Tunnels to Turning Points (or something) and have your kid pop in to rescue Paul-formerly-Saul of Tarsus from the Roman prison in early 61. How about Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn in 1953 in the Russian gulag? Nelson Mandela in his South African prison in 1973 instead of in 1994? Martin Luther from his attic exile in Wartburg Castle in late 1521 rather than in 1522?
Who went? What did they do? Did they change history or NOT? Did they choose ALL the moments or only one?

May 1, 2011

Slice of PIE: Traveling At the Speed of Self-Righteousness

This Slice is going to be one of discovery because I’m not exactly sure what this has to do with writing, Christianity and science fiction…

Image: In the movie INDEPENDENCE DAY, as the city of Washington, D.C. is being evacuated, the main character David Levinson and his father, Julius are heading into the city instead:

EXT. JERSEY - HIGHWAY - LATER THAT DAY
A perfectly preserved '68 Plymouth drives cautiously down the highway. Around him we see other cars packed to the gills as they make their escape from Washington, D.C.

INT. OLDS – SAME: Not the most confident driver, Julius holds the steering wheel close to his chest.

JULIUS: It's the White House, for crying out loud. You can't just drive up and ring the bell.

DAVID: Can't this thing go any faster?

JULIUS: You think they don't know what you know? Believe me, they know. She works for the President. They know everything.

DAVID: They don't know this.

JULIUS: And you're going to educate them? Tell me something, you're so smart how come you spent eight years at M.I.T. to become a cable repairman?

DAVID: Dad, I don’t…

JULIUS: All I’m saying is that they have people who handle these things! They want HBO, they’ll call you. Look at ‘em! Look at em! Vultures! They take and then they go!

DAVID: They’re going. They’re going faster than we are. Look at this! We’re in the fast lane here!
JULIUS: I can’t go any faster. They’re cutting me off.

DAVID: They’re not cutting you off! We’re gonna get a ticket!

JULIUS: They’re getting in front of me, I can’t go any faster.

DAVID: All right! All right! I don’t want to argue! Shhh. Shhh. Let’s just get there. As quickly as possible.

JULIUS: What’s the rush? You think we’ll get to Washington and it won’t be there?

DAVID casts him a significant look and JULIUS stops arguing.

Julius is driving at whatever speed he’s decided is safe. It doesn’t matter that others are fleeing an alien invasion. It doesn’t matter that cars are squealing around him. It doesn’t matter that he’s going slower than the posted speed. He’s going at his own speed. He knows it’s OK. He knows the speed is the “right” one. He is traveling at the speed of self-righteousness.

This is not necessarily a “real speed”, though I both encounter and have traveled at this speed. You likely know what I mean: the car that moves at exactly at the posted speed of 60 mph even though the rest of the rush hour traffic is going between 65 and 110. They move like an island in a raging river, confident that they are right and everyone else is wrong. Don’t get me wrong, this isn’t about age, gender or race – I’ve seen teen boys and elderly black women traveling at the speed of self-righteousness. It’s all in an attitude that seems to ooze from the exhaust pipe, “Don’t care what YOU’RE doing, I’m RIGHTEOUS!”

Traveling at the speed of self-righteousness can also be a condition in publishing. I know a writer who, after writing a string of highly acclaimed books (followed by some stinkers) chose to stop novels and concentrate on their online presence by typing thousands of essays extolling their superior (to those of us who do not have identical) education, politics, ethics and moral fiber. Their writing seems to ooze the attitude, “Don’t care what YOU’RE doing, I’m RIGHTEOUS!”

After recently rereading some of this person’s essays, I became aware of the possibility of traveling at the speed of self-righteousness myself. Words rose from a recent letter that came from a wise friend of mine regarding writing – but applicable to my walk with Christ, being a breast cancer husband, working as a guidance counselor-recently-a-teacher and father, in-law, and just plain husband. This wise friend said: “…as I see it, you are facing a profound moral dilemma. Do you really want to be a…? If so you can either be incredibly lucky, as I was, or you can put your family on Moloch's altar and pander away as hard as you can -- OR, you can decide that your marriage and family are more important…When you look at my books and such, then, you see symbols of my success…Which do you think I would rather have now: the books, the magazine credits, the fame, the money, the…Award hanging on my office wall? Or just a little more time with my daughter? If you answered, ‘The fame, of course!’ you may have what it takes to become a big name famous and successful author. But I think you're a better man than that.”

My wise friend implies every once in a while that he knows about traveling at the speed of self-righteousness. In his case, that speed may have been part of what killed a marriage and stole time from a beloved child now lost. My wise friend implies that I SHOULD know the dangers too – and avoid them.

I hope this wise friend is giving credit to the right person, because sometimes, I don’t know if I’ll do the right thing, slow down and start traveling at the speed of the Truly Righteous (which CAN be fast or slow, and it CAN be counter to society, but then again, the speed of self-righteousness is more about attitude than it is about driving…)

image: http://www.movieprop.com/tvandmovie/reviews/id4.jpg