November 29, 2011

IDEAS ON TUESDAYS 39


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.
F Trope: elves, gnomes and Halflings
So…a guy – call him Geir Laxness – is born in Iceland and grows up. He’s got no mom and lives alone with dad, who is an anthropologist.
They’ve travelled a bit, so he’s seen a lot, but he’s always been shy. He reads lots of fantasy and likes LORD OF THE RINGS a lot and can even read the Icelandic translation (which his few friends think is weird). One of his heroes is “Snorri Sturluson, a descendant of Egil’s Saga’s hero, but this remains uncertain. The standard modern edition of Icelandic sagas is known as Íslenzk Fornrit.” His online name is “Snorri”.
He skypes other friends all the time and has contacts all over the world. Him and his dad are at a conference in Minneapolis, MN. It’s his first time in the US interior and he manages to get away from Dad and go to a fantasy and science fiction bookstore called “Uncle Hugo’s”.
It’s across the street from a REALLY intriguing International Marketplace and he figures he’ll pop over there and see what’s up…
That’s when he witnesses a murder: a group of white kids, tattooed and heads shaved, on skateboards, attack and kill a black man and an Hispanic woman. The disappear back down a staircase to a bike trail below.
Geir tries to help, but doesn’t know to call 911 in the US, so he does what he can. The woman presses a folded sheet of paper into his hand as she dies and says…

November 27, 2011

Slice of PIE: Can “I Hate This” Be Positive and Encouraging?

I doubt that I’m the only one who has received a harsh critique of their writing.

I doubt that I’m the only one who has received a harsh critique of a life choice.

Even Jesus has harsh words to say to His disciples. In Luke 9:37-47, Jesus criticizes them both obviously and subtly: “ 37 The next day, after they had come down the mountain, a large crowd met Jesus. 38 A man in the crowd called out to him, “Teacher, I beg you to look at my son, my only child. 39 An evil spirit keeps seizing him, making him scream. It throws him into convulsions so that he foams at the mouth. It batters him and hardly ever leaves him alone. 40 I begged your disciples to cast out the spirit, but they couldn’t do it.” 41 Jesus said, “You faithless and corrupt people! How long must I be with you and put up with you?” Then he said to the man, “Bring your son here.” 42 As the boy came forward, the demon knocked him to the ground and threw him into a violent convulsion. But Jesus rebuked the evil spirit and healed the boy. Then he gave him back to his father. 43 Awe gripped the people as they saw this majestic display of God’s power. While everyone was marveling at everything he was doing, Jesus said to his disciples, 44 “Listen to me and remember what I say. The Son of Man is going to be betrayed into the hands of his enemies.”45 But they didn’t know what he meant. Its significance was hidden from them, so they couldn’t understand it, and they were afraid to ask him about it. 46 Then his disciples began arguing about which of them was the greatest. 47 But Jesus knew their thoughts, so he brought a little child to his side. 48 Then he said to them, “Anyone who welcomes a little child like this on my behalf welcomes me, and anyone who welcomes me also welcomes my Father who sent me. Whoever is the least among you is the greatest.”

The first critique is subtle. The crowd tells Jesus that His disciples can’t do something they claim they can. Jesus does it easily, implying in front of God and everyone that His disciples didn’t know what they were doing.

The second critique is not subtle at all. The disciples figure they’re a shoe-in for heaven and just have to figure out the victory banquet seating arrangements. Jesus tells them the kid standing next to Him is better than they are.

I have received both kinds of critiques of my writing. An example is pasted below and while neither Jesus nor this agent says "I hate this", it certainly must have felt like that for the disciples...and for me. The obvious is the first part:

“Wow, that is some story you just sent me! Editors could never call that one ‘too quiet’--the standard reason in the industry for passing on a picture book manuscript. I haven't even had my coffee yet and that one woke me up completely! In the end, though, Guy, it's a bit long for today's picture book market. Editors are calling for spare, compelling texts up to about 600 words. Should you choose to revisit the manuscript, I would be happy to take another look.”

The subtle is below and I’m still not sure if I will resubmit:

“Also, if you have it in you to re-send Victory of Fists again, I'd love to see the newly empowered version. If I've knocked the wind out of your sails, I will certainly understand.”

The obvious is just that and contains workable advice. I rewrote, tightened and resubmitted and even though it was turned down again, the story is markedly better. I will keep looking for a home for this one.

The second and subtle has given me pause. I certainly went back and reworked the story, but now I don’t know what to do with the second sentence. Is it a gracious way to let me back out or a backhanded way of saying, “Stop bothering me”? Is this 'positive and encouraging'?

Your thoughts?

Image: http://pledgingforchange.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/10/literary-agent-reading-book-manuscript.jpg

November 24, 2011

THE RECONSTRUCTION OF MAI LI HASTINGS Chapter 32

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 four pages back until you get to the bottom.

The trip home from the hospital was silent – mostly because Mai Li had practically passed out between CJ Hastings and their mom. It was dark and the lights of the cars on the interstate and the overhead floods washed them with blue, yellow and orange alternately.

They were nearly home when Mom said, “Do you think she’s dying, CJ?”

He looked at her and could barely see her between the lights. He opened his mouth to say something smart, waited a moment then said, “Why ask me?”

Mom said, “Because for all the work I’ve done taking care of her, you’ve always known her better than I did.”

“That’s not true, Mom…”

“Don’t worry about hurting my feelings, honey. You two have always been somehow – I don’t want to sound metaphysical, but your souls have always been knit together.”

CJ guffawed, heard her huff and added, “For not wanting to sound metaphysical, that was sure metaphysical.”

She laughed, too but drove in silence. They pulled into the driveway and stopped. Mom turned the car off and staring ahead, continued to wait. Finally CJ said, “Yeah. Unless she can come up with a genius move to save herself and reprogram the nanomachines before they rebuild her old brain, she’s dying.”

Mai Li stirred between them and sat up slowly, saying, “Like I’ve always said since becoming the next step in Human evolution, ‘you’re not retarded, just an idiot.’”

CJ rolled his eyes and said, “Thanks for the vote of confidence.” Together, him and Mom managed to get Mai Li out of the car and into the house.

Once she was in her room and Mom had gone to make a late dinner, she said to CJ, “You’re right, little idiot. Unless I can reprogram the nanos, I’m going to die. So get me my laptop and get out of my way. You’re going to have to be my legs for me while I figure this out.”

He squinted suspiciously and said, “What are you going to order?”

“Drugs.”

He paused then said, “I can get some for you at school tomorrow if you just tell me what you want.”

Mai Li looked up, her face angry – outraged, CJ might have guessed – locking eyes with him. She opened her mouth then guffawed. She laughed so hard she fell back on the bed and laughed until tears streamed from her eyes and Mom had come to the bedroom door. “What did you say to her?”

CJ opened his mouth to answer. He was pretty sure Mom wouldn’t get the drug joke. He was saved from a lie when he phone rang and Mai Li struggled to her elbows and said, “He was just trying to make me feel better by stimulating the release of endorphins into my brain.”

Mom snorted and left the room.

CJ said into his phone, “Job?”

“Duh. Listen, I can’t talk long. You gonna be at school tomorrow?”

CJ pulled the phone from his mouth and shouted, “Mom do I have to go to…”

“Yes!” she cut him off with a shout from the kitchen.

“Yeah,” he said to Job, “I’m gonna be there.”

“Good. You better tell Mr. Jalfroun you’re not gonna go to MacDonald-Chandrasekar. I heard from Trevon that Mr. Jalfroun heard from the M-C coach that you were gonna sign on with them for sure!”

“Who told them that?”

“Trevon told me he heard it from Luc who heard it from Sentury.”

CJ squinted angrily, his hand squeezing the phone. Good thing he was a wimp or he’d have crushed it. “I’ll get even with her for this.”

“That’s fine, but first tell Mr. Jalfroun tomorrow that you’re not quitting his team.”

“But I sorta am.”

“Going to Carter doesn’t count. He’s the assistant coach there.”

CJ opened his mouth to reply just as Mai Li screamed.

Image: http://s4.hubimg.com/u/920491_f260.jpg

November 23, 2011

RIP Anne McCaffrey




Found out yesterday that Anne McCaffrey passed away -- I began reading her books as a young adult, re-read them dozens of times then introduced both of my kids to them.







In this family, she will be profoundly missed...





Ideas On Tuesday 38 -- Zomboid Mary...


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.
SF Trope: post-apocalyptic world
I KNOW I’ve done zombies before (http://faithandsciencefiction.blogspot.com/2011/08/ideas-on-tuesdays-26-zombie-researcher.html and http://faithandsciencefiction.blogspot.com/2011/06/ideas-on-tuesday-18-stalking-abandoned.html) but they were from different points of view than this. This is a warning from the Center for Disease Control in Atlanta, Georgia. Granted, it’s a bit tongue in cheek and the intent is to bring up the necessity for people to prepare for ANY kind of disaster, but it gave me an idea…
The CDC urges you to become a member of the Zombie Task Force.
What if the “joke” has been perpetrated by that once-in-a-millennium occurrence, a zombie CARRIER (no, I don’t mean a semi-trailer designed to transport zombies stacked like cordwood, though that’s an interesting image…) – I mean someone who is only a partial zombie. They don’t walk around with outstretched arms, they don’t thump around at the speed of a tumbling tumbleweed. In fact, a zombie carrier is someone who, like Typhoid Mary spread the zombie disease without themselves being a zombie (“Individuals can develop typhoid fever after ingesting food or water contaminated during handling by a human carrier. The human carrier is usually a healthy person who has survived a previous episode of typhoid fever yet who continues to shed the associated bacteria, Salmonella typhi, in feces and urine.” From Wikipedia, Typhoid Mary)
So, a high school senior who is virtually invisible at her school, is the only child of a couple who have been doing research on the reanimation of dead human tissue. They live far on the edge of town and she has been driving herself to school ever since she got her license. She overhears them talking one night and figures out (finally) that they are zombie carriers.
In order to find out if she is, she thinks about a particular clique of girls who like to tease her and this guy who she likes but who mocks her and decides to…
Image: http://1.bp.blogspot.com/_MFslwcqLKIE/Sme8ud9e-tI/AAAAAAAAAmk/zA79yKs-qz8/s400/boy_eats_girl_8.jpg

November 20, 2011

POSSIBLY IRRITATING ESSAYS – OCCUPY Portland, Science Fiction, Writing and Faith…a Volatile Combination

(The photo above is of Jeff VanderMeer who, when you GOOGLE “activist science fiction writer” pops up first. Second place is awarded to Cory Doctrow.)

Last weekend, I was in Portland, Oregon becoming more educated on the philosophy and changes of a program called International Baccalaureate(http://www.ibo.org/); which is a methodology and framework for delivering a world-class, globally-aware education for kindergartners through seniors in high school. My daughter was in the IB program from 6th-12th grade. The training she received both philosophically and academically have been very helpful in her college education.

OCCUPY Portland was there as well and provided me with a different kind of education.

I confess that I had no idea what was going on. I’m an old guy and protesting is, as Captain Kirk once said, “…a game for the young, Doctor.” The first time I heard the Occupants chanting, I couldn’t make out the words OR the placards (it was late at night). I thought they were advertising Wendy’s – “…something…something…something…99 cents!”

Yeah, I know. What a dork.

As the weekend spun out, though and the IB conferees completely ignored the protest (because they were, after all, globally-minded teachers); the news reported on the unusual peacefulness of the confrontation between police and protesters and the metaphysical prophecies of a man who, while meditating with a rock that was purported to produce sympathetic vibrations of peace, had had a vision of rain and peaceful protesting (and had offered the crystal to a police officer in the riot line – who had significantly accepted it); it all began to sink into me.

STAR TREK, BARRAYAR, STAR WARS, DUNE, SAGA OF THE SEVEN SUNS, BABYLON 5, SERENITY and FOUNDATION AND EMPIRE never depict peaceful protests.

In fact to my knowledge, protests do not happen very often in science fiction. Two scenes I can recall are from David Brin’s SUNDIVER in which people wave placards protesting the extra-terrestrial presence on Earth; and the mob scene in the movie CONTACT which exhibits the absolute worst of Humanity.

In both of those scenes, the scientist-types scoff and shake their heads in disbelief at the insanity of most of Humanity (except for the unanimous scientific part). In neither case did the main characters join in and in neither case are the protesters objections addressed.

I suppose the same thing has happened with the OCCUPY movement – while investment in the sciences is (at least peripherally) controlled by large corporations like 3M, Boston Scientific, Bayer and Monsanto; while there certainly are scientists who participate (http://www.genomeweb.com/blog/phd-scientists-occupy-wall-street) those same scientists (upon whom the stock exchange depends – MMM, BSX, BAYRY, MON) eschew OCCUPY: “‘The Occupy Wall Street movement recently has drawn criticism, however — particularly from those who view the protest as disorganized and unsophisticated,’ The New York Times' Nelson Schwartz and Eric Dash say. ‘Without a coherent message, the crowds will ultimately thin out, Wall Street types insist…’”

Christians have a clear, ecumenical presence in the OCCUPY movement (http://www.nytimes.com/2011/11/12/us/at-occupy-protests-bearing-witness-without-preaching-beliefs-by-mark-oppenheimer.html?_r=2&hp).

So what am I trying to say? Just this: SF writers are typically made up of individuals who have a scientific bent (if not always degrees). They can have a profound impact on the scientific community. They should be writing to influence, not just entertain. They should be writing to empower change and not maintain status quo. They should encourage challenging the status quo – of COURSE while entertaining!

Where are the protesters in SF?

Excuse me while I get to work on a protesting scientist who happens to be a Christian as well (and no, it is NOT an oxymoron).

Image: http://danieljeffreygoodman.files.wordpress.com/2010/08/jeff-vandermeer.jpg

November 16, 2011

Ideas On Tuesday 38


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.
H Trope: immortality
While the Wikipedia entry explaining the Immortal DNA strand isn’t exactly a current event, the second entry IS and though it is a medical paper and written in medical language, it happens to be significant to the life of our family.
To make this understandable to lay people, I’d like to use those worn-out tropes of horror: vampires.
Let’s just say that the vampire DNA strand is immortal, but because so many vampires were killed in the 19th and early 20th century by various vampire slayers such as Koshiko Kamiyama, John Averill, Twelve String Digby (http://www.fvza.org/tophunters.html), Van Helsing and Buffy, it has become widely spread and doesn’t produce vampires any more.
It’s lengendarily reported that the vampire slayings were in response to an outbreak of vampires in the 17th and 18th Centuries (http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/europe/the-real-vampire-slayers-397874.html).
It is the 21st Century now and people travel everywhere all the time. A chance college meeting leads to romance for a couple with old, Eastern European roots – Curtis Allen is the result and he discovers his vampiric leanings not long after his mom is transferred to the 3M headquarters in Minneapolis. He attends a prestigious private high school…but the story begins when his dad has to tell him about the birds, the bees and bloodlust…

November 11, 2011

No Posts This Weekend!


I am going to be in Portland, Oregon until Monday night and so I won't be posting (I missed Thursday's post because I was working last night...)

At any rate, I'll be WRITING my POSSIBLY IRRITATING ESSAY; I just won't be posting it until Monday night or Tuesday morning.

Later!

November 8, 2011

Ideas On Tuesday 37

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.

F Trope: gypsy fortune telling

Current Event:

http://www.sun-sentinel.com/news/local/crime/fl-fortune-teller-fraud-court-20110819,0,3619467.story

Serena Buzău is a sophomore in a highly selective, science and math high school near Minneapolis and despises her parent’s business. They travel from one fair or carnival or cruise ship to another and visit the homes of the gullible and wealthy – as gypsy fortune tellers.

Her life is good and outside of their “gigs”, her parents appear perfectly normal – her dad is an advertising consultant who runs his business from home and Mom has a beauty parlor in the basement. This gives the two of them freedom to do the “gypsy show”…though their “stage names” are actually their real names: Alin and Crina; and both are popular in the mountains of the Carpathian Mountain area of Romania.

They have their programs down to an art and occasionally – and ONLY if the money is right – they will cast curses.

This causes them no amount of amusement because they believe more in the power of suggestion than in the powers of ancient curses.

Then one day, word comes back to them that a curse they cast CAME TRUE exactly as they cast it. Others begin to come true as well. It soon appears that someone or something has decided to carry out the curses. Serena is up late one night, skyping with a friend of hers…

Image: http://workforcedevelopment.edublogs.org/files/2009/05/gypsy_fortune_teller.jpg

November 6, 2011

Slice of PIE – Change of Name?

After four years, I’m starting to think about changing the name of my blog. But I’m not sure that will make any difference.

After four years, I’ve had something around 15000 hits (I know the counter is different, but since I’ve started, for one reason or another, the counter had to be reset). That’s a lot of hits.

Twenty-one people follow me. I’m very, very grateful to them!

I’m also wondering if it would be better if I renamed the blog to something less threatening.

I mean, think about it – in this day and age, how many people WANT to be irritated? Even possibly? There’s plenty to irritate me out in the real world without my intentionally seeking out MORE irritating essays!

Also, doing this on purpose means I have to TRY and bug people. The rest of my blog isn’t about that – it’s about working on my novels and kid’s books and seeking comments. I post a spare idea every Tuesday. My other blog is my own take as I’ve walked alongside my wife in her breast cancer experience (I do NOT want to say “journey”. That word implies taking a vacation or going somewhere you want to go – and arriving unscathed. My wife’s experience with breast cancer has been horrible, painful and full of weeping. There have BEEN joyful moments, but always after weeping…how’s that a “journey” of any sort? If you’re interested, you can check it out here: http://breastcancerreaper.blogspot.com/).

So far, the tally isn’t very encouraging – one blog and one weekly post intended to help people; one blog post asking for comments on my work in progress (I work on three projects at a time); and even on Sundays, I have three subjects I cover: WRITING ADVICE, Possibly Irritating Essays, and (like this one) a Slice of PIE (intended to irritate people only a little bit).

The total? Of eight types of posts, six are intended to help others or to help me (though I’ve always hoped people commenting on my works in progress would learn a thing or two as I change foci, character names, locations and directions in the story as it develops. I suppose I wanted it to be a learning experience for them as well as me.) One is blatantly out to get people’s goats, the other can be but isn’t always. Sometimes it’s just observations on life.

So, how about an analysis? What are the titles of the top five most popular blogs on Blogspot?

Can’t seem to find that, but I did find this: http://technorati.com/blogs/directory/. Techorati lists 1,285,000 blogs in nine categories. The largest category is “Living” with 52000 blogs. Of those, the largest categories are “Arts” and “Home”, each with some 19000 blogs.

Another site (http://www.ebizmba.com/articles/blogs) lists popular sites as well.

When it gets to the Top ___ Personal Blogs, it gets very fuzzy. People begin to break them into categories such as Science Fiction/Fantasy; Finance; Health; Family and Inspiration. Then you have Blogspot’s “Blogs of Note” – though based on what people are saying, there doesn’t seem to be a specific process. Which is fine. It doesn’t bother me because they’re giving me a free forum with no strings attached. All I have to do is use it.

So – as I can’t change the system, maybe I’ll change the blog’s name…

How about INTERSECT – ‘cause I love CHUCK on TV. The word is also in the blurb under the title. I also like the implications as well. So we’ll see. PIE may soon be under a new name!

Image: http://www.polymercolor.com/plasticquestionmark.jpg

November 1, 2011

Ideas On Tuesday 36

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.

SF Trope: immortality

Current Event: http://www.ias.ac.in/currsci/25jun2011/1761.pdf

As you well know by now, cancer became an intimate part of the life of my family in March with my wife’s breast cancer diagnosis.

As a science teacher with a BS in Biology, I read science articles and science books for fun…yeah, I know, total geek, huh? One of the books I haven’t gotten to yet but WILL get to eventually is The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks. In essence, it is the story of a black woman whose cells were taken (without her knowledge or her family’s knowledge) in the 1950s and are being used for hundreds of cell experiments. These cells have been grown over and over and over – to a point that they have outlived the woman they came from and will likely continue on in some form or another for a long, long time.

So here’s the story seed: after a decades-long court battle, the HeLa Line is legally terminated and scientists have no more line to use; research is terminated and the effects ripple through the scientific world, trickling down into real world medicine. “All is lost!” cries the medical community.

Then a woman steps forward. Decades ago, her great grandmother started a line of cells taken from her son who later signed the rights of his cell line over to his mother who then gave the line to an obscure Christian college in Minnesota. The line has been worked with for some time, though the research is minor. An odd gene combination in the line has remained unstudied since its discovery.

Because it has a history, the new line – from the cells of James Stanton – the JaStan line, becomes the standard cell line used for research. Then someone clones a cell and grows a complete human being…

Image: http://www.audioeditions.com/audio-book-images/l/The-Immortal-Life-of-Henrietta-Lacks-938039.jpg