November 28, 2012


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.

Sorry it was late -- conferences last night and a CRAZY busy schedule...

F Trope: White magic

Mahamat Abeche and Liha Beledweyne looked at each other across the table in the Gersthofen Commons of Göggingen College.

“The thing about Americans?” Liha said. She watched a gaggle of students mutter on by.

“Which thing about Americans?” asked Mahamat. Liha looked at him in disgust. For having so many bad things to say about the US, he certainly had no qualms about the food. He was stuffing a sheaf of “French” fries into his mouth then washing it down with a Coke.

“The thing about Americans is that they’re so…materialistic. They think that what they see is what they get.” He rolled her eyes and shook her head. Even she picked up Americanisms without even realizing it. Her father had warned her that America would badly muffle her perception of the spirit world. She’d figured she could handle it. She now figured that it was a good thing that the college was so close to a Somolian neighborhood – while her spiritual sense was nowhere near as sharp as it had been at home, at least she still had one.
Mahamat looked up at her over his plate of fried. Once he’d chewed and swallowed, she said, “You East Africans are so proud of your supposed closeness with the spirit world. What about us? Chad grew from a population emigrated there in the seventh millennium B.C.!”

She snorted. “We were there from the ninth millennium B.C. onward. We were practically there are the dawn of Human civilization.”

“So you supposedly know all about everything spiritual because your forebears were around a couple thousand years before mine were?”

“No, I’m more spiritual because I’m more spiritual. You’re a brainless blob with so little spiritual sense that I’ve been dead trees with more spiritual energy than you have.”

“Hey!” Mahamat exclaimed. The tip of a fry fell from his mouth.

“So, if you’re more spiritual than a log, you’re gonna have to prove it.”

He grunted then said, “I didn’t want to have to bring out the big guns, but now you’ve impugned my masculinity. I have to...”

“Do you even know what the word means?”

“What? ‘impugn’ means ‘honesty of (a statement or motive); challenge; call into question.’ See?” He smirked.

“That’s not the word I meant.”

Scowling, he said, “I know white magic and I can prove it.”


Mahamat lifted his chin. “In white magic – as it was passed on to me by my mother – we follow specific ethical codes and adopt social convention. But I know a spell to protect an item.” He leaned over and grabbed his backpack, opened it and pulled his laptop out, opened it and powered it up. Sitting back in his chair, he muttered then looked up at her. “I’ve protected my laptop with a spell.” He stood up. “I gotta go to the bathroom,” he said loudly and walked away.

Liha said, “What are you doing? If you leave your...” He flipped her off and kept going.

She stared after him incredulously, flipped him back, spun around and walked away. She walked past the Göggingen Gallery then came back around, unobtrusively watching the open laptop. It sat just fine for several moments. Four people walked past going in different directions, but no one made a move for the computer.

Then a peculiarly shabby male student, long hair obscuring his face, his sweatshirt slightly rattier than usual walked toward the table. He reached for the laptop…

(female Somalian name)
(male Tchadian name)

November 25, 2012

POSSIBLY IRRITATING ESSAY: How Science Fiction Saved Me Then But Probably Wouldn’t Today

My personal opinion regarding science fiction for young people is well documented – most notably here: and here:

Skimming through the recent Golden Duck Awards (, I see two familiar names David Weber (the Honor Harrington novels – this book tells the story of her first meeting with her treecat) and Kathy Reichs (the inventor of the Temperance Brennan books that became the fascinating TV series BONES).

Though I haven’t read any of the award winners, it strikes me first that the synopses seem to be fairly positive (though one, Worst-Case Scenario Ultimate Adventure #2: Mars! appears to be part of the amusing but hardly groundbreaking “Worst Case Scenario” collection of humor books for adults), THE LONG, LONG SLEEP seems practically Heinleinesque in its plot as does Weber’s A BEAUTIFUL FRIENDSHIP. Like the Hugo Award, this award is presented at the World Science Fiction Convention each year and appears to be a “popular” award.

The Andre Norton Award, on the other hand, is given like the Nebula Award, by the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America. I was on the Norton Committee twice. Recent winners there: THE FREEDOM MAZE was a hit on every level in addition to winning the 2012 Norton. My two favorites in 2007 and 2008 were LIFE AS WE KNEW IT and THE TRUE MEANING OF SMEK DAY and while neither one won the Norton, both are extant on the bookshelves of brick-and-mortars and online at Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

So – to the irritation.

Why did I fall in love the works of Andre Norton, Robert A. Heinlein, John Christopher, Madeleine L’Engle, Alan E. Nourse, Ben Bova, Donald A. Wollheim, and all the others?

Because I was a lonely adolescent, really, really disliked who I was, and felt out of place in my family. I disappeared into science fiction to escape the mundane life I lived – and to escape the grim future I saw unfolding around me. Assassination, riots, Vietnam, an out-of-control drug culture, political dishonesty and unrest from New York through London into Moscow, New Delhi, Beijing and to Los Angeles flickered nightly on television. I needed hope and found it in NASA and the space program as well as in STAR TREK.

But I had to search beyond that and that was where I followed the lead I glimpsed in the first two science fiction books I ever read, THE SPACESHIP UNDER THE APPLE TREE (Louis Slobodkin) and THE WONDERFUL FLIGHT TO THE MUSHROOM PLANET (Eleanor Cameron).

MISS PICKEREL GOES TO MARS (and the others) by Ellen MacGregor (and after MacGregor’s untimely death Dora Pantel) followed, and I was off on an adventure that hasn’t ended yet. I have a YA science fiction novel that will shortly go to my agent and I have an SF short story appearing in the January 2013 issue of CRICKET, called “The Penguin Whisperer”.

Even with such positive influence, many adults are still peddling doom and gloom to teens today. At the school I work at the travesty of “science fiction” – which contains neither science nor is it fiction but (In my opinion the work of an author who has a “thing” against teenagers and would perhaps like to see them kill each other off for the amusement of the adult population. Any takers out there who’d like to argue the point?) has become a part of the English Curriculum at my school! Why not a novel that has a reasonable view of the future? Why this…thing?

A comment made on the blog entry I posted above reveals how writers sometimes view the world: “Susan McNerney says (July 16th, 2012) …both trends are probably tapped out in the agent/publisher pipeline by now, from what I’m hearing. So, this too shall pass.” Just so she knows, this is the second year that THG is being taught as part of the curriculum at our two high schools. There’s been, strangely, not a single protest from ANYONE about a book that not only promotes violence but the wholesale slaughter of teenagers by other teenagers (and while that is happening on a regular basis today) the added kicker is that ADULTS WATCH IT FOR ENJOYMENT…As curriculum engines turn very, very slowly, we can count on this book being part of the education of ninth graders in my high school for at least five more years.

The upshot of this somewhat rambling essay is that science fiction writers DO have a responsibility to present positive futures to young adults – if that is the specific audience they are aiming at. I don’t MEAN to write politically correct books or dumbed down or namby pamby work (which is how some people will inevitably read into what I’m writing when they stop reading before this)!

What I mean is that we write the way responsible adults should write – with an eye on the future and using our writing skills to coax young people – like I was once – into a future where there IS hope and where they MIGHT be able to find a place for themselves that doesn’t include wholesale slaughter for adult entertainment or grim, hopeless grayness. They get enough of that in real life…

November 22, 2012

MARTIAN HOLIDAY 36: Aster of Opportunity – Love

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, Molesters , Jews, Rapists, Buddhists, Murderers, 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 – get rid of religion and Human divisiveness on a societal level will disappear? 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.

Aster Thiel pursed her lips then swiped her finger through the virtual screen hovering over the desk in her apartments. After a moment, she said, “City, please connect me to Captain Stanton.”

“You do not have to say ‘please’ to me, Mayor’s Escort Thiel.”

Even though the title irritated her, she smiled, “You’re an artificial intelligence, aren’t you?”

“I am, ME Thiel.”

“Then you are an independent entity in my eyes and you deserve to be politely  treated.”

“Thank you, ME Thiel. I have Captain Stanton for you.”

The scenery screen disappeared, replaced by the crew-cut, serious face of the Mayor’s House head of security. He smiled faintly – which Aster had come to realize was as god as a full-blown grin in normal people – and said, “How may I help you, Miz Thiel?”

Aster smiled at the old-fashioned appellation. She liked it much more than the one the computer used. It sounded less possessive. She said, “James, I was wondering if I could see my father.”

James gave an exaggerated sigh and said, “He’s in his usual place. Drinking coffee and reading subversive literature in the Qalipu Qoffee nook up the avenue from the House. Dark roast, vacuum processed, fully-caffeinated an from the slopes of Olympus Mons itself.”

“Think you could let me go down there today?”

James shook his head slightly. “You know what Mayor Etaraxis thinks of people like your father.”

Aster nodded, “He could be arrested for possessing a Bible and could be taken into custody for treason and reprogrammed.”

“You make it sound like such a bad thing!”

Aster shook her head, smiling, “It is, but this is where we are. As long as there are decent men and women in the Mayor’s service, he’ll never be completely evil.”

James rolled his eyes and said, “Taking you into his service would be proof that he knows a good person when he sees one. There are people who would as soon push you and your father out an old execution lock as look at you.”

Aster felt a chill tap dance up her spine. She knew the Mayor’s Chief of Security was a darkly angry woman. It was only when James had insisted she forward under her own name the weakness in the Mayor’s Home security that she’d acted – and it wasn’t hard to guess what Hanam vo’Maddux’s reaction would be. She nodded. “If you think it’s best I don’t see Daddy today, I’ll go with that, Captain Stanton.”

He winced. “Ouch.” He paused then said, “How is it that you’re the only person who can turn my rank into an appeal to my deepest, darkest heart?”

 “Because you’re a good man through and through, Captain.”

He snorted. “You don’t know the worst parts of me.”

Aster shrugged slightly, “Only the Universe knows those. Judgment isn’t something I concern myself with. Thanks, James.” She reached to hang up.

“Well, your dad does know how to drink his coffee,” James said. Aster knew that was a high compliment. James occasionally brewed a cup or two of beans imported from Ancient Ethiopia on Earth, where coffee was purported to have its original roots. He sighed. “I suppose I can give you an hour.” He leaned closer to his screen, “Just be careful.”

She frowned, nodded and hung up. For a while, she sat at her desk, staring out the window that opened on to one of the vertical garden spirals masking internal dome support columns. Most of the columns had wide, gently rising ramps built around them with soil troughs planted with Earth flora from different regions on the Mother World. The one she could started with short-stemmed prairie grasses at the bottom and progressed upwards to blue spruce and dwarf white pine. Contained, cultivated and cared-for, she felt the chill dance up her spine again as she contemplated the similarities between the vertical garden and herself.

She gathered her purse and a hat and left a moment later, wondering how she would tell the Mayor she would be going back to the office pool below.

November 21, 2012


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: Humans are NOTHING special in the universe
Current Event: “The apparent size and age of the universe suggest that many technologically advanced extraterrestrial civilizations ought to exist.
However, this hypothesis seems inconsistent with the lack of observational evidence to support it.” [Editorial comment: “‘Suggest’?????? ‘Seems inconsistent’???????] from

There is no evidence of life anywhere in space – oh, there are hopes, dreams, protestations that “we can NOT be the only ones in this ENTIRE UNIVERSE” (this shriek is followed by a childish tantrum-like stomp of a foot. It has been uttered by the most distinguished of scientists and science fiction writers ever to walk this Earth – from Carl Sagan to David Brin) and frantic attempts by those who do not believe that Humanity is unique.

But there is NO PROOF that there is anyone of any sort anywhere in the universe but HERE.

Perhaps the best thing would be to just admit that we’re all there is and go from there.

Two paths are possible, the first one was followed to its logical conclusion by Isaac Asimov in his FOUNDATION classic tales – from FORWARD THE FOUNDATION through FOUNDATION AND EARTH.

The second seems to be happening before our very eyes:

Claudie Nicollier and Wubbo Fugelsang shielded their eyes against the glare of the rising sun. Claudie said, “Do you have any idea how ridiculous this looks? The symbolic 'dawn of a new era'?”

Wubbo snorted, rubbing the beard he’d allowed to grow over the last two weeks of the Human space program. He said, “They’re trying to fool themselves into believing that space belongs to the mechanical.”

Claudie grunted, grabbing his shoulder to steady her own hand. She said, “I joined the ESA to stop this. I did it for the glory of France!” Her shouted sounded more choked than triumphant. “Six years of training flushed away by an accident and bureaucratic panic.”

“You started training when you were ten?” he said, smiling. “I was born dreaming of space. My parents conceived me on the night of the last American shuttle launch on July 21, 2o11.”

“How romantic!” she whispered.

“And extremely uncomfortable, my older brother told me.”


“They were laying on a blanket on a beach in Florida about five kilometers from the Cape Canaveral launch pad.”

She slapped his shoulder, “We’re talking about the end of an era, Rub. How can you joke at a time like this?”


From their hiding place, they watched an Ariane VI rocket hurtle into space. Built entirely by robots, crewed by robots and guarded by robots, it was the International Space Union’s first shot since bringing the ancient International Space Station back to Earth. For the first time in eighty years, no Human lived anywhere but on the surface of the Earth.

The ISU and all its member nations had declared that space exploration could now begin in earnest with Humans safely at the center of a web of spidery lines of destinations from the first interstellar probe on the eighth year of its journey to Alpha Centauri B to the buckshot spheres of picobot satellites in orbit around all eight planets and fifteen moons.

“It’s not me I’m worried about,” said Claudie.

Rub lifted an eyebrow, standing up, stretching – they’d been crouched here since the night before, hiding in the jungle west of the Launch Center. “Who are you worried about then?”

“Noah and Natalie and Waqas and Chris...”

“The Americans?” he snorted, “What are you worried about them for? They had their chance to go to the stars. They blew it.”


He waited then said, “I hear a ‘but’ in there.”

She stretched as well, quite aware of his interest in her calisthenics. She said, “I’m worried because I heard them talking the other day. They have something – how do they say it – they’ve got something ‘up their sleeves’.”

Rub shook his head, “They don’t have the power to do anything anymore. They can’t even work themselves out of their Second Great Depression.”

“What I heard from them doesn’t require power just a little remodeling…”

November 18, 2012


Somewhere around thirty years ago, I met Bruce Bethke for the first time – when I responded to an ad in a newspaper for a science fiction writers group seeking new members. I called, then sent in an “audition story” and was invited to join the group at the ORIGINAL, original Loft Literary Center (before grant money started flowing) in Minneapolis. One of THEM reviews books now, the other published a few books and short stories but no longer writes. Bruce doesn’t write much lately except for non-fiction; he is currently executive editor of STUPEFYING STORIES, an irregular anthology of new speculative fiction, he mostly works for a super computer company as well as presiding over Rampant Loon Press. These nuggets of wisdom can be found here: They are used with the author’s permission.
2. We believe that an Agent far greater than Our Last Agent can restore us to publications, sales, and critical acclaim.
While I have seen this happen, I’m not sure that Bruce personally experienced this. For the entire time I’ve known him, he has been represented by Ashley Grayson Agency.

I haven’t had an agent long enough to wonder what “an Agent far greater” would be like. So far working with my agent has been a great experience. She understands me and after a few tries, I began to see what she was trying to tease out of my writing.

Hearsay is a different story altogether and while I’d never name any names, I have HEARD lots of stories. Also, if you’d like to read about bad agent experiences, you can read about them at these sites:

What I’ve HEARD is that the agent doesn’t make or break you. For example, I’ve never had an agent before, yet I have written and gotten things published in some of the best markets: ANALOG, CRICKET, CICADA as well as others (including an article in THE WRITER). All of that without an agent.

What I’ve HEARD is that you and your agent are a team with different areas of expertise. Your agent may no longer want to be a full-time writer, editor, or publisher but they know the industry well enough and have enough connections within the industry – as well as knowing what editors and  publishing houses want – to have a good idea of where to direct your work.

Agents have also built a level of trust with editors at publishing houses and when they send a piece to an editor, the editor knows that the manuscript has been edited to within an inch of its life! They know that all that needs to happen now is for them to sit down and find out if THIS piece will fit the company’s goals and programs.

The writer then, produces the best and most original piece of literature that they can. They tell their story as clearly as possible. They pay attention to all the things first time writers have drilled into their heads (whether be teachers, mentors or by reading about writing: dialogue. pace. plot. characterization. milieu. originality.).

Working together, the writer and agent form a team. For many, it’s a lifetime thing: besides Bruce, writer Anne McCaffery and her agent Virginia Kidd worked together for decades; and never mind – I’ve spent the past hour trying to find out what agents represent some of my favorite authors. Some are apparently very secretive, so we don’t need to go there.

Suffice it to say that like everything else, blaming your non-success on anyone but yourself is an exercise in futility as the only person you can change in this world is yourself.

I suppose that would be the best anecdote to go with this second step of Bruce Bethke’s Twelve Step Writer’s Program…

November 15, 2012


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 speculation about 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 stared at Edwina as the heavily loaded logging truck kept rumbling along. Finally he said, “How do I unsay everything I said?”

Ed barked a laugh then said, “You ever get an answer kid, let the world know and they’ll elect you king.”

“I don’t wanna be a king,” he said without thinking.

Freddie Merrill leaned into him hard and fast, smooshing him against the door. He said, “Don’t worry about that. Anyone who knows you’d be dizzy to vote for you!”

Tommy shoved him back. Without touching Ed, the boys went back and forth until she finally shouted, “Stop it, recruits!”

The boys stopped, settled and pretty soon started to doze again. Ed said, “You boys gonna sleep or talk to me?”

Tommy looked across Freddie and said, “I’m trying to stay awake, but I’m tired after all that food at your brother’s church.”

She grunted then said, “Can’t say as I blame you. Thinkin’ about stopping and taking a nap myself. In fact,” the truck slowed again, this time she edged over to the side.

Tommy said, “No! Wait! I’ll stay awake! I don’t want you to be late delivering your logs!”

“Won’t be, sonny. My time’s pretty much my own as long as I get the logs to Port Arthur before the logs rot on the truck.”

“Really? My dad would whoop me till I screamed if I were late getting home or getting from the store or getting’ to school.”

Ed nodded, “That’s a good way to raise a boy.” Tommy snorted. “What’s wrong with it?”

“My dad and mom didn’t raise me much. Mostly just let me run around. Unless they got mad at me, then Dad’d whoop me.”

Ed made a face as the truck slowed to a halt and she set the parking brake. “Listen, if you want to stay awake, you can. I’m gonna catch some zees [1852] so I can be more fun after we get to Port Arthur.”

“I thought we were going to Grand Marais first?” Tommy began. Freddie snorted just then and tilted sideways, his head falling on Tommy’s shoulder. An instant later, Ed crossed her arms, leaned forward and was asleep with her face cradled on them, snoring loudly.

Tommy blinked, looked at the sleeping bodies then looked out the window. It was just after noon. How long would he have to wait until they both woke up? He watched two cars pass as well as four empty logging trucks. One truck passed them going north. His eyes had started to droop when a second truck, a smaller one, rolled by, slowing. Filled with men standing, they turned to look back at them. Tommy stopped breathing and fell to the floor.

It was the socialists from the mansion.

November 13, 2012


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: creepy basements

 Mattie Capp Washington – I hated her. She was cute where I was ugly; she was short where I was tall; she was light where I was dark; she was popular where the world loathed me.

Everyone mourns her passing which the police and the rest of the country suspected was a murder. I’m the only one who actually saw anything, but if I talk about it, then I’ll be a suspect and even though their suspicions wouldn’t be entirely true, it would probably be enough to convict me.

It would certainly be enough to get me sent to the electric chair (if they had one any more) in the courtroom of public opinion.

I suppose I should back up a bit. I could probably start at the part where the world loathed me. I’m pretty sure you think I’m exaggerating when I say that, because there’s pretty much nothing that the world uniformly loathes. On the other hand, a paper I read once stated, “In virtually every culture there has existed some word for evil, a universal, linguistic acknowledgment of the archetypal presence of ‘something that brings sorrow, distress, or calamity...’”

So if every culture has a word for it, then the word must have been invented to describe something – ‘cuz that’s what Humans do. We put labels on stuff as soon as we want to get a handle on it. It’d be interesting to see which came first – the word for “evil” or the word for “God”.

I’m it – the thing that every culture has named. And almost without exception, I live in dark places. In the middle of the 21st Century, while there aren’t many caves left, there are lots and lots of basements. That’s where you’ll usually find me – evil lurking in basements.

It’s funny, ‘cuz bad guys always act like they’re looking for me. The real nut cases say that they’re seeking me to worship me. Those are the ones that amuse me the most because no matter how hard they tried to find me, no matter how many millions of dollars they spent or how many people they murdered to come to me face-to-face, the second they look at me, they completely lose it and beg to leave; they grovel, roll around on the ground, mess themselves and volunteer to sacrifice to me anything and everything they have.

And I’m not even Incarnate – I’m excarnate. I’m the one who DOES the dirty work because I am the one who is Unmade flesh. I was alive on Earth at one time and when I joined the ranks I became excarnate and now I serve. In basements. All the time.

Someone came down the stairs: thud, thud, thud; male heaviness. The young Ms. Washington was here, too. But there might have been a surprise or two in the offing.

I smiled an excarnate smile and opened my mouth.

November 11, 2012

Slice of PIE: Christ and Holding The Bridge of Khazad Dum

We often forget that while JRR Tolkien didn’t write “as” a Christian, he was a Christian.

While my daughter has spent the last four and a half months in New Zealand studying Philosophy of the Arts, Comparative Biology, Introduction to Contemporary Art Practices, and Pacific Arts, we’ve frequently talked about the coming World Premier in Wellington, New Zealand of THE HOBBIT: An Unexpected Journey. Major scenes of the new movie as well as the original LORD OF THE RINGS were filmed in various places all over the massive island nation and so I’ve come to associate my daughter’s time there with the tale of Frodo and Bilbo.

Two nights ago, we started watching LOTR: The Fellowship of the Ring.

We came to the scene in which the Balrog, “tall and menacing with the ability to shroud themselves in fire, darkness, and shadow. They frequently appeared armed with fiery whips "of many thongs", and occasionally used long swords. In Tolkien's later conception, they could not be casually destroyed—significant power was required. Only dragons rivaled their capacity for ferocity and destruction, and during the First Age of Middle-earth, they were among the most feared of Morgoth's forces” is deflected from following the Fellowship by Gandalf’s sacrifice.

We once had a pastor who used that scene to give us a clearer image of what the Christ has done for us out of love – to stand between the forces of Satan and our path in life, hopefully up out of the darkness. It’s significance has stayed with me for a decade and the scene of the Fellowship of the Ring weeping once they have escaped the Mines of Moria made me choke up again. It’s clearly what the disciples did once Jesus had died on the cross. Shocked, stunned, leaderless, they could only weep and wonder what they could possibly do to go on.

While I cannot imagine what the disciples felt, it’s writers like Tolkien who offer me images of what those moments may have been like. Also, he did not hit the reader or the movie-goer over the head with a club made from the Cross Of Christ. I have iterated before and I will iterate again the words of CS Lewis: “We do not need more little books about Christianity. What we need is more books about other subject written by Christians with their Christianity latent.” (GOD IN THE DOCK, “Christian Apologetics” 1970 Eerdmans)

Latent does not mean hidden. If that is what Lewis had meant, then he would have written: “We do not need more little books about Christianity. What we need is more books about other subjects written by Christians with their Christianity occult.” Lewis was a wordaholic. If he’d meant “hidden”, he would have used the word occult.

The word latent is rich with meaning, and you can lay a solid bet that Lewis used it intentionally and with full knowledge and approval of every one of its meanings: (adjective) 1. present but not visible, apparent, or actualized; existing as potential: latent ability; 2. Pathology . (of an infectious agent or disease) remaining in an inactive or hidden phase; dormant; 3. Psychology . existing in unconscious or dormant form but potentially able to achieve expression: a latent emotion; 4. Botany . (of buds that are not externally manifest) dormant or undeveloped.

Tolkien was a friend of Lewis’ and while they enjoyed arguing against each other, both were English professors and had a deep affinity for words. Neither one would use a word – especially in their writing – incorrectly or without giving it full scrutiny and weight. It is the weight of Tolkien’s work that makes it seem so real. So when he wrote that scene, no number of atheists can take the latent Christianity from it, whether they wrote the screenplay or try word games to say that “it can mean whatever you want it to mean”.

Sorry – that’s not how Tolkien wrote.

I ran into a similar situation at Moorhead State University. It was autumn and the Fine Arts Department was going to perform Handel’s MESSIAH during the holiday season. After the choir had warmed up, the director sat and said, “This is one of Handel’s greatest works, but I just want you to know that you should be singing your heart out to whatever it is you believe in – because this music was made to be believed in!”

I walked out because Handel didn’t write THE MESSIAH for people to sing to Loki, Ramakrishna, Allah, or the Buddha – he wrote it to celebrate the Messiah, Jesus Christ. I was a dumb kid then. I’d have stayed today – because I know that Handel’s work is, just as Tolkien’s work is – written from the heart of Christian men, to bring glory to the Son of God. That intent is latent – and both Handel and Lewis left the convincing up to the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

Where it should be. I also might have been able to put flesh to the Gospel had I remained. I blew it. Good thing He’s a forgiving God as well.

What thinkst thou?

November 8, 2012


The idea for this starts with a story I tried to write about a thieving monkey who took keys and used them to unlock its cage. That was it. The story was called BRIGHT FLASH THE MONKEY’S PAWS. It was my third or fourth attempt at writing a picture book – and it was really bad. With the advent of the genre of steampunk, I started rethinking the story. Here it is – OK, just realized that I wrote something entirely different for #5 than I thought I did. So…this is going to be where the story SHOULD have gone. If you don’t mind, ignore #6 above!

It was a good thing Clementine covered her mouth.

If she had not, it would have been open as she fell into the rain water tub!

She might have drowned. Instead she was dripping wet.

Hanging from a tree with one hand, the steam monkey laughed, then hurried out of the courtyard and into the street.

Clementine waited a moment…

November 6, 2012


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: magic to summon someTHING

Ruby Yilmaz and Liam Kaya sat side-by-side, skimming through websites. Liam muttered in Phasa Thai.

“English, Liam. English! While we’re here, we’re supposed to be practicing our English,” whispered Ruby. English was her birth language even though her parents had emigrated from Thailand to Australia before she was born and they spoke Phasa Thai at home. “It’s the language of physics!”

Liam grunted and said, “If you want my opinion, then the English isn’t going to be the language of physics much longer – that’ll be either Mandarin Chinese or Hindi.”

Ruby grinned and continued to scan the articles they had to read for the Intro to Physics in the 21st Century class they were taking together this semester. She sighed. What she’d RATHER be reading was articles on ancient magic.

“Look at this,” said Liam.

Ruby leaned over. While she was glad the lettering was English, she rolled her eyes at the site name, “Conjuring Made Easy”. She whispered, “You’re supposed to be reading the articles updating the CERN discoveries!”

“Hey! How do we know magic is supernatural? What if it’s manipulating the laws of physics as we don’t understand them?”

Ruby rolled her eyes and went back to reading. Let Liam waste his time. SHE wanted to move to some rich country someday – like China – and get a real job as a physicist! She wanted to be in on the Chinese dream of establishing a colony on the water world orbiting Alpha Centauri A – what the Chinese called Nán Mén Èr – and what they’d begun hollowing out an asteroid to reach.

“If magic is bogus, then why don’t we print this spell and go over to my place?”

Ruby rolled her eyes again. It wasn’t that Liam wasn’t good looking – it was just that he was quite certain that she found him attractive. The fact was that she had her eye on a certain very tall, very blonde, very, very shy Swedish young man in their physics class...

Liam said abruptly, “I know you’ve got it in for Elias, but I just want to see if this magic stuff actually works.”

Ruby opened her mouth to deny her attraction to the Swede’s light-skinned, elven looks, then closed it, considered, and said, “All right. BUT…” Liam’s look of delight froze on his face. She continued, “There’s no messing around and we get back to work after you’re done summoning whatever it is you plan on summoning.”

“I’m thinking I’m going to conjure up something that understands the laws of physics AND can explain them to me.”

She laughed and, gathering up her books, followed him out of the library. By the time they reached the dorm, however, it was threatening rain. “I’d better get going to my room…”

“That would be dumb! You live two kilometers from here. You’re sure to get caught out in the rain if you leave now – and you don’t have any tunnels you can duck into. Just stay the night. My roommate won’t be back. He’s busy sleeping with his latest boyfriend down the hall.”

Ruby made a face then said, “I’ll come up, but I’m not guaranteeing I’ll stay. If it’s not raining, I’m going home.”

Liam nodded and once they were firmly settled into his room and he’d pulled up the website again, he said, “All right. This summoning spell doesn’t seem to be too hard to pull off.”

“No blood of a virgin required?”

He snorted, “I’m NOT pricking my finger to bleed for a magic spell again. We’ll have to ask the guy next door.”

Ruby gasped, smacked him and laughed, saying, “Well THERE’S a silver lining to these rain clouds!”

Liam was silent, then muttered something that sounded almost like Phasa Thai. Lighting flashed and thunder rumbled to shake the window pane of the dorm room. Ruby scowled, focusing her attention on a particularly complex abstract regarding proof of the Higgs boson they’d discovered at CERN.

She was hunched over her computer when Liam screamed…