May 31, 2008

Why I Ride In the Tour de Cure Against Diabetes

People ask "why do you bother to ride 45 miles on a Saturday when you could just ask people to give to the American Diabetes Association ( and be done with it?"

I also did the Walk For A Cure here in Minneapolis as well and people asked the same thing. It did seem to be enough to tell them that my wife, Liz, is a Type 2 diabetic. It wasn't enough that Greg Lundholm -- best man in my wedding and one of my very closest friends -- died a year after I got married in a horrible way stemming from Type 1 diabetes complications.

So this year I thought about it. A bit of background, first: I am NOT a crazy biker! I don't have toe clips, or a top-of-the-line bike, I don't wear padded shorts or Team Jerseys. I just ride around a nearby lake sometimes or out to the Coon Rapids Dam on the Mississippi to have devotions at sunrise. Sometimes.

I DIDN'T train for weeks for the Tour de Cure. I didn't time myself. I'm just an ordinary "shmoe" trying to do a good thing -- raise money for research into the causes, prevention and cures of Type 1 and 2 diabetes.

I'm writing this six hours after I finished the Tour de Cure in Minneapolis -- in dead last place! I ache from head-to-toe. My arms are even sore, my butt, legs and neck are sore. I have three naproxene in me. After I showered (immediately upon arriving home), I fell asleep instantly for an hour. Woke up, had supper, watched storms hit the northern Minneapolis suburbs and now came to the computer.

I ride in the Tour de Cure -- the 45 mile version; you can also do 5 mile or 20 mile -- because it hurts me. I was exhausted, sunburned and my legs were trembling with "pre-cramps". All I needed to do was peddle a little harder and my legs would explode into full-scale, falling down agonizing cramps. I was asked four times if I wanted to ride in the "saggin' wagon" and turned them down all four times. I can make it alone.

Because, despite all the support, research and help -- someone who is Type 1 or Type 2 diabetes has to face life with diabetes alone. So if I push myself to the limit and start to hurt, I feel like I can, in some "mystical" (or half-baked...) way, feel some of their pain. And because my pain will go away overnight, maybe some of the pain they feel will dissapate with it. Maybe my pain can take away some of their pain.

I know it's crazy, but after much reflection, I realize now that that's why I ride in the Tour de Cure.

May 26, 2008

A Slice of PIE: Left Behind = The Foundation?

In 1995, the Christian Reverend Tom LaHaye (With Jerry Jenkins) released the very first of the LEFT BEHIND Series books. In 1951, the atheist Isaac Asimov released the very first of the FOUNDATION Series books. Both "first-in-the-series" books named their multi-volume epics and provided a convenient handle by which both could be referred to.

There are more parallels in the two series, which, given the mutually exclusive philosophical bents of the authors, I find disturbing. To wit:

1) The LBS and FS chronicle the fall of civilization.

2) The LBS and FS follow the lives of on-the-scene, movers-and-shakers as they attempt to save civilization.

3) In the FS, Hari Seldon keeps an eye on things from afar, putting in occasional appearances. In the LBS, Jesus keeps an eye on things from afar, putting in occasional appearances.

4) Powerful, choice-making, Jesus grabbing, faith powered, men (and a couple of women)-o-God are prominently displayed in the LBS. Powerful, choice-making, Seldon grabbing, psychohistory powered, men-o-Hari are prominently displayed in the FS.

5) There's none of that humility crap that Jesus talks about in either the LBS or the FS.

6) The main characters in the FS and the LBS blow away anyone who gets in their way -- apparently with Hari's and God's approval.

7) Both Jesus and Hari have carefully laid out events leading to the salvation of Humanity.

8) Both the FS and the LBS focus on hidden forces opposing monolithic evil in the name of Humanity and God.

9) Reading them raises the question, which will come first, the Thousand Year Reign of Christ or the Foundation?

10) Both the FS and the LBS made their authors scads of money and established them as household names.

When any author writes, they expose a bit of themselves for public viewing. The fact that these two series parallel each other in many ways makes me wonder whether Luther -- who also borrowed culturally significant vehicles for sharing the Good News -- would have thought the LBS had gone a bit too far.

May 17, 2008

WRITING ADVICE: Putting Your Character Down

The toughest thing I've ever had to deal with in writing is making my characters seem to live.

NO -- I don't have trouble making lists, writing their life story, doing interviews with them, doing time lines or any of the other things the writing books talk about all the time.

I have trouble writing down things that make my characters live on the page. I have trouble putting my character down. On paper. So that others experience them the way I do.

My most recent solution to the problem is to do the following:

1) I write down basic visual details, choosing one thing that makes them unique.

2) I put them in a situation where their uniqueness STICKS OUT LIKE A SORE THUMB.

3) I write out the character's response to a couple of pressures that have nothing to do with my story.

4) Write a scene I've witnessed and then replace someone I knew with that character and see how THEY react.

5) I dissect the characters in other books I love.

6) I have the character state somehow what they want and come up with a stupid plan to get it.

7) I also make them talk about their "owies" (external, internal, spiritual).

8) I write scenes using SPECIFIC details in all the senses.

9) I make sure the character has realistic FLAWS tied intimately to realistic STRENGTHS.

10) I add quirky flaws, a sense of humor, an exaggerated positive trait and self-doubt.

11) I sit down and think, "What the heck am I trying to do with the character?"

12) I quit worrying and write. Like a shark. (A majority of sharks must have oxygenated water moving over their gills. If they don't, they suffocate. They DIE!)

There you go. Prescriptive writing (see my post "UGH: Prescriptive Writing"). My prescription to me.

If you like it, steal it. Oh, only one thing: tell me if it works for you.

May 12, 2008

Slice of PIE: The Big 4 Are Gone -- Where Are We Going?

'92, '94, '00, '08...

While there are many who are writing great SF today, there don't seem to be many writing in a classic mode. By 'classic', I mean SF that points in new directions. Absolutely there are those intent on RE-creating the genre -- witness the revival of space opera. But where are the writers who are creating the GRAND countercultural ideas?

Who created and codified planet-wide ecoengineering and religio-engineering? Frank Herbert, in the original single book, DUNE did that.

Who created humaniform robots and explored their impact on human society? Isaac Asimov did in the ROBOT books.

Who wondered about the effect of aliens and alien environments on child-rearing? Robert A. Heinlein did in STRANGER IN A STRANGE LAND.

Who created artificial satellites and space towers and set them free from the imagination to become reality? Arthur C. Clarke did in WIRELESS WORLD (February 1945) and in FOUNTAINS OF PARADISE.

What allowed them to imagine and express their mind images? Besides pure genius, I put before you the possibility that it might have been their Judeo-Christian roots. While all repudiated those roots in adulthood, pehaps those roots nurtured a rebellion against "what is" and encouraged them to look for alternatives to tradition and canon.

Today, with the slippery relativism that passes for philosophy and religion, tradition and canon are non-existent and there are few monoliths to rebel against. With nothing to reject, where will classic SF blossom and how will it shift the direction of the genre?

May 10, 2008

POSSIBLY IRRITATING ESSAY: Star Trek is STILL Stupid (er...Politically Apathetic)!

David Brin contends – and rightly so – that the Star Trek “populist” form of government is better than the Star Wars “despotic” form of government.

HOWEVER where Star Wars makes a (bad) point of promoting despotism, the humans of the United Federation of Planets act just like most Americans do about politics in this early part of the 21st Century: “don’t care, won’t bother”. My objection to Star Trek is that despite the fact that there have been huge technological advances (obviously), philosophical advances (“People are no longer obsessed with the accumulation of 'things'. We have eliminated hunger, want, the need for possessions." Picard, ST:NG, “The Neutral Zone”) , religious advances (humans have no apparent religion), economic advances (“You see, money doesn't exist in the 24th century..” Picard, ST:FIRST CONTACT)and military advances (again, obviously), there has apparently been no POLITICAL advancement.

The crew of any ENTERPRISE and the humans of DS9 NEVER talk politics. Everyone else in the Federation does. The Klingons are always going on about the High Council; the Cardassians discuss the latest coup d’etat; the Bajorans rave about the elections and factionism and how it was easier during the Occupation; and the Romulans and the Ferengi are always talking about ascensions to this or that. Nowhere does Picard ever say to Troi, even briefly:

“Who are you voting for this election?”

“Oh, Betazed’s boycotting the elections because the Vulcans are trying to mind-meld with all non-Vulcan/non-telepaths to try and throw the election.”

“That’s too bad. Is all of Betazed voting bloc, then?”

“As usual, no. But anyone who wants to vote for the Vulcan presidential candidate has to fly to Paris and cast their vote at the Federation Capitol Building.”

“What a bother! Though I must say that Paris in the Autumn is grand.”

“It is a bother, but better than the last time when that Ferengi tried to buy his Presidency!”

Chuckling, Picard nods, “As I recall, that was one of the most interesting and entertaining elections in recent history!” Troi laughs with him.

Data lifts a finger, “Perhaps if the Mother Horta ran for President of the Federation Council, she could smooth out some of the rocky relationships.”

Picard and Troi look at each other and burst out laughing. With his finger still in the air, Data goes back and sits at his console, muttering, “Humor – it is a difficult concept.”

There: in less than 30 seconds of banterfest, I was humorous and stated or implied the following:

1) The Federation holds democratic elections
2) Peaceful protest of procedure is acceptable
3) Interference with the election process is not acceptable no matter WHO you are
4) Freedom to vote as one pleases is a RIGHT
5) Federation capitol is in Paris, France (MEMORY ALPHA states that there is some question as to where it exists!)
6) Federation politics is independent of local politics and not subject to local interpretation
7) Politics is FUN – Picard likes it and the educated crew of the most powerful weapon in the Federation takes time to vote in democratic elections
8) The Federation is not a “humans only club”

While it’s too late to add dialogue to the 694 episodes (including the Original Series pilot) and the 10 movies (soon to be 11) of canon, the lack might be addressed with less than 30 seconds of dialogue in any future movie or show. Even if the only purpose is to shed an instant of positive light on the democratic process and advancement in politics in the Federation – then it’s worth the effort to make the statement.

So go ahead, whoever wants to steal my little script, feel free to do so – as long as it serves to preserve the populists and curb the despots!

May 5, 2008

WRITING ADVICE: Absolutely Basic Theme

Some people have it easy!

Leo Tolstoy had no trouble finding powerful themes, plus he used them simply as titles for his books: WAR AND PEACE, CHILDHOOD, BOYHOOD and FAMILY HAPPINESS.

How easy was that?

But what about the rest of us? What is theme? defines theme as a “unifying idea that is a recurrent element in a literary or artistic work”. That’s a bit highbrow for me. You can parse it slowly, but it doesn’t exactly ring with verve.

Orson Scott Card (creator, master and commander of ENDER’S GAME and ALVIN MAKER) doesn’t actually define “theme” in his book, HOW TO WRITE SCIENCE FICTION AND FANTASY, but he has plenty to say about it. One jewel is this: “I began teaching a science fiction writing class at the University of Utah and on the first day of class, I began a spur-of-the-moment exercise designed simply to show that science fiction and fantasy ideas are ridiculously easy to come up with…At the very first session, I asked them to think of the ‘price of magic.’” (Chapter 2 World Creation)

There’s no high-falutin’ statement of theme here, yet the phrase, “the price of magic” begs to be the central, unifying idea of a book. It became one in Card’s first fantasy novel, HART’S HOPE. Sounds like the theme of the HARRY POTTER books, too…

Examine your work to discover your theme or begin with a title and write to a theme or steal a theme from some other great work. Whatever you do:

To produce a mighty book, you must choose a mighty theme. No great and enduring volume can ever be written on the flea, though many there be that have tried it.” Herman Melville (MOBY DICK) []