December 31, 2009


(This series is a little biography and a little imagination. The biography will detail a month long trip my dad took in the summer of 1946 when he and a friend hitchhiked from Loring Park to Duluth, Minnesota and back. The motivation, names and details all come from my imagination though. For example, I don't know if Dad ever made it to Anoka’s amphitheater, but you never know! I’ve started interviewing Dad and finding out more details which I’ll add as needed. To read earlier SHORT LONG posts, click on the link right. July 2, 1946 is on the bottom as you scroll down. Enjoy!)

“We gotta get you outta town,” Tommy Hastings said. “But I still gotta tell somebody.”

“No!” Freddie Merrill exclaimed. His shout echoed off the dark walls of apartments and row houses surrounding Loring Park. Tommy was sure he heard bushes rustling in the park – Nazi spies or Minneapolis gangsters, he was sure – as they came to the corner of West 15th and Hennepin.

Tommy shushed him and whispered, “You want Officer Lars to rap on your head some more with his night stick?”

Freddie cringed and turned to look in the park. Whispering, he said, “Who you gonna tell?”

“May. She’ll know when to let Mom and Dad know we left for Duluth. And Dad’ll know if he can say anything to your dad.”

Freddie nodded as they turned right on to West 15th and ran lightly down the sidewalk to the walk up where the Hastings lived. Crouching like they were thieves, the boys opened the front door and slipped in, tip-toeing down the hall to Tommy’s room in the back of the house. They went into his room, pushed the door closed silently and collapsed on the bed laying crosswise, both pairs of feet dangling almost to the floor.

Neither one woke until early afternoon. They’d curled face-to-face with their feet pulled up on the bed and woke with a start when a string of black cat firecrackers rattled away outside the little bedroom window. Tommy ‘bout fell out of bed then peeked out into the hallway and whispered back to Freddie, “Dad’s sleeping in the living room. I think Mom’s out housecleaning.” With his dad retired on an Army pension, his mom still had to work outside the home. She’d been a domestic when she’d met Guy Hastings in Duluth in 1919 and did the same thing still.

“We gotta go,” Tommy said. He went to his dresser drawers and pulled out socks, underwear, T-shirts and another pair of pants. He grabbed his swimsuit and pillowcase, stuffing everything into it. “I’m ready.”

“What am I supposed to take? All my stuff’s at home!” Freddie said.

Tommy looked at him and rolled his eyes, “We’re the same size, dummy! We can wear the same stuff,” he said, going to the dresser and throwing more things on the bed. He stripped the pillowcase from his pillow and stuffed the things into it. “OK, we should get going if we’re gonna get there before sundown.” He held out the case.

Freddie stared at it for a while before he finally took it. “Can I have the other one? That’s gonna stink like you,” he said, “I’ve never been away from home for more than a couple nights.”

Tommy shrugged. “We have to go.” He slung the dirty pillowcase over his shoulder, opened the door again, peeked out and said, “Come on.”

They left by the front door. May was just coming up the steps, wearily plodding. She worked in the office at General Mills on the Mississippi. “Freddie and me are going up to Duluth,” he said to her.

“Have a nice trip. Write when you get a chance,” she replied. She was in the house and shutting the door an instant later.

“‘Have a nice day’ to you, too,” Tommy said. He looked at Freddie then turned away quickly when he saw the look on his face. “Let’s go.” They went back to Hennepin Avenue and hiked along until they reached University and turned north. “Here we go,” said Tommy as he turned to face Minneapolis and stuck out his thumb. “You better get behind me. ‘s a better chance of us gettin’ a ride if I’m in front.”


“Shut out and stick out your thumb.”

December 27, 2009

WRITING ADVICE: Jack McDevitt 8: Have Fifty Characters Named T’Challah

(The Twelve Blunders are used with permission of Jack McDevitt, from his webpage:

McDevitt’s advice here might best be summed up in two words: “Diversity pays”.

Looking at a class list for two periods of English Language Learners, these are some of the names I find: Joseph, Mirna, Mathieu, Nabila, Maria, Waqas, Victor, Wei, Karina, Mohamud, Joan Carlos, Konah, Yuritzi, Katya, Avena, Holyba, Luz, Lavanie, Eduardo, Obadiah, Rosa, Daisy, Tou, and Gao Ia. Last names are even more varied: Vang, Rivera-Parra, Massaqoi, Marcatoma, Guachichuica, Ho, Chacon, Vargas, Barantian, Meza-Murga, Saybo, Getu, Yonkedeh, Swaray, Lin, Khan, Kariuki, Chanthavong, Agnatodji and Badri.

The message here for me is that we have enough strange Human names, we can be at LEAST that creative with our “alien” names.

Even so, McDevitt avoids aliens like the plague because, “Aliens…are mysterious, romantic, compelling…but only as long as they remain distant. As soon as they get a name, or begin describing their peculiar social institutions, all that fades away and they become like us, only more boring.”

Here is where I deviate from his advice…sort of. My personal belief is that aliens allow us to explore parts of ourselves that are not currently clear or always apparent. I understand that when we meet them, aliens are going to be, by their nature, ALIEN. We will not “get them”. Even if we are members of a local group of stars that was “seeded” by common cometary DNA, it’s unlikely that we will turn out like the STAR TREK panoply of Vulcans, Andorians, Klingons, Ferengi, Romulans and Cardassians. Even if we do, it’s doubtful that we’ll be able to employ a universal translator because so much of Human communication is non-verbal, there’s no reason to expect that other intelligences will be any LESS complex and while we might say the words right, the context will be wrong.

By McDevitt’s logic, being Humans we can’t create aliens because they’ll just be Human – implying “why bother”? It’s why his aliens, as he says, “remain distant.” I disagree. Occasionally, Humans have imagined really alien aliens that don’t appear to be “Humans in rubber suits”. In SOLARIS, Stanislaw Lem imagines something that closely approaches an alien I find nearly incomprehensible. Even the STAR TREK franchise got it right once when they created the Horta and while I doubt we’ll solve such first contact problems in 43 minutes, it posed some fascinating questions.

I agree we need not label our aliens with gobbledegook names. Besides, when we meet real aliens someday, we will call them something pronounceable behind their backs. Most likely, they will pick up names derived from their looks or actions. But I disagree with McDevitt when I suggest we need more aliens, not fewer.

Julie Czerneda created the alien Dhryn and it seems like they are “humans in rubber suits” at first. But she succeeds where McDevitt feels SF fails: as soon as Brymn is named and Czerneda describes his people’s peculiar social institutions, myself – and others – find that the Dhryn’s “alieness” comes into focus and they become less like us and far more interesting. In exploring the alien Dhryn, we are forced to look more closely at our own species imperative – which some would say is embodied in the Judeo-Christian-Islamic command to “…be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it…” (Genesis 1:28) [My argument: only 1/3 of the world’s population is JCI – the other 2/3 must be responding to a different imperative then…]

At any rate, I think we need MORE aliens not less; but we must build them well enough to satisfy even the most ardent critics – like Jack McDevitt. And we have to use them only when needed and for the main purpose of exploring our Humanity more fully.

December 24, 2009


It occurred to me this morning that other bloggers like Nathan Bransford and Bruce Bethke have somewhere stored, a Christmas blog they trot out each year to look at and revisit. Below is my attempt at this venerable tradition…

Like many people, I have Christmas traditions.

I watch Jim Carrey’s HOW THE GRINCH STOLE CHRISTMAS. I check out a copy of Dicken’s A CHRISTMAS CAROL (the version with Patrick Stewart, Star Trek:TNG’s Jean-Luc Picard playing Ebenezer Scrooge). I snuggle up to the TV to listen to Burl Ives sing in the animatronic version of RUDOLPH THE RED-NOSED REINDEER. Of course I read the Christmas story from Luke 1:1 – 2:20, but I dig out my old December 1997 issue of ANALOG and reread “Easter Egg Hunt: A Christmas Story” by Jeffrey Kooistra. I also find time alone to watch the video tape of a Christmas musical I scripted with music and lyrics by an old, old friend of mine, Lynn Bell. The musical was called “Just In Time For Christmas” and was a children’s time-travel version of A CHRISTMAS CAROL with a couple of twists. Performed twice by a huge cast of kids from my church, it included both my son as an Outsider-sort of angel and my daughter as a shepherd who was watching her fields by night.

I conclude then that for me Christmas is about the past. It ranges from ancient times in far-away Israel to present day kerfuffles about what to do Christmas day when my sister is in Virginia with her “other” family and our get-together last Saturday was postponed because of a frigid blizzard and moved to January sometime and will include celebrating my mom’s 75th birthday and the fact that I’ll be working most of today at Barnes & Noble and Mom and Dad are coming for Christmas Eve dinner and I won’t be around to help get ready. This past includes my daughter’s concern about the commercialization of Christmas that led her to ask us to spend the money we would have used on her to get a sewing machine for an organization that teaches women in northern India to sew for a living.

On the other hand, my son loves to seek out just the right gift for each person and disdains gift cards – he loves the giving part of Christmas. He started the small avalanche of gifts under the tree right now when he set out his college-student-meager presents.

My wife was talking to a cashier at a local warehouse grocery story a few hours ago and asked what the day held for her. The woman said that she hated working Christmas Eve because people were so crabby – they yell at cashiers because the store is out of “stuff” and if anyone bumps their cart, they explode into anger. As we walked out into a flurry of gently falling, diamond sparkling “crystal rain” (see Tobias Buckell’s fabulous book, CRYSTAL RAIN to discover the origin of that phrase), we talked about the cashier’s observations.

Under the guidance of Our Father Below (, we have taken a simple attempt to remember the birth of the Son of God and have turned it into a tension-filled extravaganza of over-spending, over-eating and secular glitz that eclipses the original pagan ritual from which it sprang. The original event also included a kerfuffle as well as a brush with governmental bureaucracy, so maybe it was only natural that we perpetuated Mary and Joseph’s search for a place for her to have Jesus by our searches for the perfect gift, food or event.

Take a deep breath, Guy. Perhaps I need to go a bit further back in time; maybe to the announcement the angel made to Mary: “For nothing will be impossible with God.” Luke 1:37. Maybe that’s the message I’ll take from this season – that no matter what happens: kerfuffles, angry shoppers, divergent gifting and traditions; nothing is impossible with God.

Peace on Earth? He can bring it.
Deep security? He can give it.
Salvation for everyone? He did it.

“For nothing is impossible with God.”


(First published December 25, 2008)

December 20, 2009

Slice of PIE: Alternate History and Christianity

In this time of the celebration of lights, plastic Nativities and over-buying at Barnes & Noble, I was exercising my imagination. What if Jesus was never born and Humanity didn’t have to worry about all that “Christianity” stuff, instead exploring its TRUE potential without the baggage and hatred that is, according to some, Christ’s only contribution to world history?

This is a situation some atheists hope and work for and a few have written about. The exploration of this question is admittedly only a tiny slice of a minor branch of a huge body of science fiction called Alternate History. Even so, we’ve seen several recent “blockbusters” in film and print that take the speculation about alternate historical events to new levels.

No matter how you cut it, the movie INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS is a science fiction alternate history movie in which Jewish nationalists and American GIs assassinate Adolph Hitler and his staff in 1941. The “alternate history” is clearly illustrated by the spelling of the second word of the title – no American would misspell the word if they could help it, being that it’s been a standard epithet since 1830. While they don’t go beyond the assassination, it’s relatively safe to say that WWII would have wound down early and not dragged out to 1945 and perhaps even avoided the US use of the atom bomb on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

STAR TREK (the 2009 reboot) is another voyage into alternate history – only in this case the history is in the future. In this world, a Romulan incursion from the far future destroys Spock’s homeworld, Vulcan, making its people an endangered species, which never happened in the “real future” of the STAR TREK we all know and love. The ramifications of THIS alternate future will be dealt with in the next STAR TREK movie, set to come out in 2011.

Kim Stanley Robinson, in his 2002 award-winning novel THE YEARS OF RICE AND SALT postulates a past where the Black Death killed not only 99% of Europe’s population, but Christianity as well.

A new SF anthology titled THE AETHER AGE postulates a past in which Egypt and Greece never waned and Christianity never happened.

Popular Christian writer Bill Meyers explores the same theme (without explaining why Jesus was not born in Bethlehem two millennia ago despite the fact that the Old Testament is extant) and decided to come “today” in America.

As Americans, we are enamored of poking around in our past and future. We love to explore “what if”. Christians get into the act by postulating the same. Even so, I think such diddling may be dangerous. While it’s clear that certain events of the past (or the future) are malleable and may or may not have had long-term impacts on our present (there’s a school of thought that says that even if we change past events as we know them, some OTHER event will occur that will bring about the present we know; ie: assassinate Hitler and some other dictator will rise up and serve the same purpose), I'm not sure what purpose they serve other than entertainment. This may or may not be "enough" for you, but I'm pretty sure it's NOT enough for me.

Even given that, there is ONLY one Son of God who could take away the sin of the world. No one else could do that. No one else could become God Incarnate, Jesus Christ. No one else could take on the sins of all Humanity and pay the price for them. As it says in a Bo Giertz’ HAMMER OF GOD it is all “Jesus only”. No matter what the past or present did or brings, Jesus came to Earth to redeem us and it is that blessed fact that we celebrate during this season!

While we have the freedom to play around with alternate histories, it's clear that God caused only one history to happen: this one.

December 13, 2009

POSSIBLY IRRITATING ESSAY: The New STAR TREK and Christian Discipleship

Sometimes, STAR TREK illuminates God’s word for me.

Take for example, the STAR TREK reboot – designed to draw in the oldsters like my dad and me with the names and feel of the original series as well as using actors that Gen-Xers connect with.

I’m sure you see the clear connection between the movie and this passage of Scripture:

"If anyone comes to Me, and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be My disciple. Whoever does not carry his own cross and come after Me cannot be My disciple. For which one of you, when he wants to build a tower, does not first sit down and calculate the cost to see if he has enough to complete it? Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who observe it begin to ridicule him, saying, 'This man began to build and was not able to finish.” Luke 14: 26-30

Uh…you DON’T see the connection?

Hmmm. Let me try to shed some light then.

Remember the scene in the new STAR TREK where Captain Pike has ordered Sulu, Kirk and Chief Engineer Olson (who was wearing the obviously deadly RED space suit of death) to do a space dive in order to destroy the Romulan mining machine as it tries to poke a hole into Vulcan and drop its load of red matter? Just before jumping, Olson gets excited because he finally gets to “kick some Romulan butt”. His focus; his life at that moment is the personal satisfaction he’ll receive from beating the Romulan threat. He serves himself first and secondarily his boss.

Shortly after that, he is disintegrated by a gigantic drilling beam.

Kirk on the other hand, after being on the sharp end of Captain Pike’s tongue (“So, you want to be the only genius-level repeat offender in the Midwest?”), joins StarFleet and embraces the mission of the Federation, which his father died serving. Not that Kirk isn’t above self-serving, selfish decision-making. James Tiberius Kirk is NOT a saint! But he serves a higher purpose. He serves the Federation. He gets his butt kicked an uncounted number of times (the next time I watch the movie, I’m going to count the times Kirk is punched, poked, slapped and otherwise abused…by his friends. Stay tuned for a PIE on that little statistic) – but after nearly dying at the hand of the Romulans, he becomes the permanent captain of the ENTERPRISE.

The connection between the new STAR TREK and Luke 14 should now be clear: Olson served himself and was disintegrated by a Romulan mining beam. Kirk served the Federation and while he got beat up, in the end, the Federation used him to its greater glory. For Olson, there was no cost involved in “kicking Romulan butt”. By the end of the movie, Kirk was willing to give everything to serve the Federation.

This is how we should serve Christ. Do we? You might, but I don’t – not yet anyway. STAR TREK is another reminder that in service to Christ, He is the only source of power; submitting my will to His is the only way I can serve Him. I have to do this every day, every hour, every moment. Thank you Lord, for using STAR TREK to reiterate Your message to me.

image taken from:

December 11, 2009


As every Minnesota ninth grader did thirty-eight years ago in 1971, I read Daniel Keyes' masterpiece, FLOWERS FOR ALGERNON. The story has stayed with me since and rather than haunting me, it grew into my mind as a symbol for both the overwhelming possibilities of the human intellect and the overwhelming impossibilities faced by a profoundly challenged human intellect. (The character of Kathleen Kelly in YOU’VE GOT MAIL, puts it well: “I started helping my mother here after school when I was six years old. I used to watch her, and it wasn't that she was selling books, it was that she was helping people become whoever they were going to turn out to be. When you read a book as a child it becomes part of your identity in a way that no other reading in your life does...”)

I’ve started and stopped it half a dozen times since I wrote the first outline eleven years ago. Now that I’ve grown up as a writer, I think I’m ready to tackle it. I wanted to do two things: bring the ideas that shaped me into the person I am today into the present millennium; and look at a FLOWERS FOR ALGERNON type of story from the viewpoint of someone who loves the one changing.

Thus this book was born. I hope I can do the theme justice. I hope my story affects others as Daniel Keyes’ story affected me.

To read RECONSTRUCTION from beginning to here, click on the label to the right and scroll to the bottom.

By the time Dr. Chazhukaran and his nurses, nurse aides, technicians, reporters, neporters – internet news reporters – and doctor observers were gone, it was past midnight. CJ and his mom were standing at the front door. Dr. Chazhukaran was facing them. He held up his finger and said, “Perhaps I can check one more thing?”

Mom held up her hand, “Nothing more, Doctor. We’re ready for bed. CJ has school tomorrow. It’s been a long day.” She changed the subject, “When can we expect her to wake up?”

He lowered his lecturing finger and said, “As far as I can tell, she could wake up any moment. I gave her a sedative after we got her waking quantum EEG. Her brain waves are totally different than the ones we got before! It’s very exciting. There’s every evidence of higher cognitive functions now where there were none before. Her brain is working as good as yours is,” he looked directly at CJ and added, “Maybe better.”

CJ snapped, “What’s that supposed to mean?” He was a special ed kid; touchy about it, too. Kids at school knew, but nobody else needed to. “You think she’s gonna be better than me?”

Mom held up her hand again. “When will she wake up?”

He took a breath to continue, but CJ stepped closer to his mom and glared. Dr. Chazhukaran blinked then said, “Any time after sunrise.” He leaned closer, “You will give me a call, won’t you?”

“Yes. We’ll call you. Good night, doctor.” She closed the door slowly in his face, locked it and leaned back against it, closing her eyes, facing CJ.

He said, “Good job, Mom. He should have gone a long time ago.”

“He didn’t mean what he said, Chris.”

“He hates me,” CJ said, turning around and heading for the stairs. “Can I surf the web for a while?”

She nodded, looked down at him and said, “You have school to go to tomorrow.”

“You’re making me go before she wakes up?” he exclaimed. “That’s not…”

“CJ,” she said softly, holding up her hand as she had to cut off the doctor, “She’s going to be awake. Not running around talking and looking at your rLife account or riding your bike. She’ll just be awake. Practically like a newborn. We’re going to have to teach her everything. I doubt she’ll be ready to graduate with her PhD before you get home from school.” She took him by the chin and smiled. “She’s going to grow up fast – but not that fast.”

CJ took a deep breath, slowly nodded and said, “’night, Mom.”

The next day, school seemed to take forever. He was heading into last hour when Mr. Johnson, his science teacher held up his hand and said, “CJ! You’re supposed to go to the office. Take all your things. They said someone’s here to pick you up.”

CJ’s stomach dropped to his feet. He turned and hurried out of the room, to his locker, grabbed his backpack after stuffing a few books in it and ran to the office. He burst in and looked around, expecting to see his mom.

Dr. Chazhukaran was standing by the office counter instead. He was looking at CJ sadly.

“What’s wrong…”

Dr. Chazhukaran started talking at the same time, saying, “There’s nothing wrong…”

CJ recovered first, “Then why are you here?”

“Things aren’t going exactly as we thought they would. You need to be home. Now.”

“Then what are we waiting for?” CJ bolted from the office, ignoring the secretary calling to him that he had to sign out. He pushed through the exit doors and into the courtyard. A taxi was sitting in front of the school. Dr. Chazhukaran stepped out. CJ looked at him, “A taxi?”

The doctor shrugged, “I can’t afford a car.”

CJ shook his head, “Let’s go. Mom and Mai Li need me.”

The doctor’s long stride brought him alongside CJ before they reached the taxi. He said, “Not exactly in the way you’ve been expecting her to need you.”

“What do you mean?” CJ said as the doctor opened the taxi door and gestured him in. He slid in as the man went to the other side and got in. “What do you mean she doesn’t need me like I’ve been expecting her to?”

Dr. Chazhukaran said to the driver, “Back where we came from.” He looked like he bit the inside of his cheek then said, “It seems her development under the ministrations of the nanomachines have produced more efficacious connections than expected.”

CJ rolled his eyes and said what one of his nurses had said the night before, “English, doctor! English!”

He shot CJ a look then said, “I think she’s talking. Asking for you.”

“What do mean, you think she’s talking?”

He didn’t say anything for a while. They were almost half way home when he spoke. “Humans learn to speak by mimicking others around them. That’s why baby talk in ‘babytalk.’”


He shot CJ a look. “Even though her brain had profound damage, her hearing was fine. She could hear what you and your mom – even what we – were saying.”

“So she can talk already?”

He didn’t answer and as the taxi pulled up in front of the house, CJ grabbed his backpack and ran for the front door. As he threw it open, a woman’s voice that wasn’t his mom, was screaming, “I want CJ! I want CJ!”

December 6, 2009

WRITING ADVICE: Jack McDevitt 7: Major Events Take Place Offstage

(The Twelve Blunders are used with permission of Jack McDevitt, from his webpage:

“Conflict is the soul of good fiction…Especially when the conflict arises between two apparently reasonable but mutually exclusive views…narratives dependent on villainous characters have a hard time rising to a very sophisticated level…” And that conflict has to take place front and center -- it's why readers want to read a story!

In my own writing, I discovered this after I’d finished my first “real” 110,000 word science fiction novel, INVADER’S GUILT.

In it, I’d played five characters and four minor characters off one another in five different story lines as they came together then parted ways and eventually arrived at the same place at the same time at the end of the book. I still like the story, but after re-reading it, I found that while their personal stories were interesting, there was no compelling overall “event” taking place. Their stories were all set against the Human invasion of the WheetAh homeworld at the end of a protracted interstellar conflict. While this is certainly dramatic, there wasn’t anything ELSE happening. It was a pretty average story of the conclusion of a pretty average interstellar war that Humans appeared about to win (of course…)

Then I found the real conflict; the reasonable but mutually exclusive view that was driving the story. There were actually two, one obvious, one hidden. I worked to bring out the first story line by eliminating two character viewpoints and focusing on three – a group of alien, plantimal WheetAh who were political prisoners of the planetary ruler and had a Human prisoner dropped in their midst and then escape their prison; a pilot/drug dealer and a Buddhist nun working to stop a plague; a Christian missionary with connections to WheetAh government because of her work with WheetAh and Human orphans.

The second conflict I’d never noticed: extremely powerful aliens have a plan to create God and Humans and WheetAh are part of it. Whether they want to be or not. Whether they even notice or not.

Suddenly – at least for me and a few beta readers – the story was more coherent and there was moral ambiguity: do Humanity and WheetAh have any right to decide if they want to be part of the Weaver’s attempt to fabricate God? Neither one could in any way stop the Weavers, who exist outside of the universe the two kingdoms inhabit, though their intent is clearly good.

Ah! That’s it! Now I have it!

Now all I have to do is sell it…

November 29, 2009

A Slice of PIE: Quantum Physics and Christ

It has been said: “The quantum universe is not a universe of things but a universe of relationships.” (THE PRESENT FUTURE by Reggie McNeal, c 2003).

I respect this author immensely. I’ve taken his work seriously and started to incorporate his theology into my life mission as well as looking for it in the mission of the Church I work to serve.

I’ve also been a science teacher for nearly 30 years – a ninth grade physical science teacher for the past 11 years – and I know as much as any lay person about physics of both the classic and quantum variety.

So does the statement in THE PRESENT FUTURE and the definition of quantum physics really line up? Wikipedia has this to say in defining our subject: “Quantum mechanics is essential to understand the behavior of systems at atomic length scales and smaller. For example, if classical mechanics governed the workings of an atom, electrons would rapidly travel towards and collide with the nucleus, making stable atoms impossible. However, in the natural world the electrons normally remain in an uncertain, non-deterministic "smeared" (wave-particle wave function) orbital path around or "through" the nucleus, defying classical electromagnetism.”

So far, so good: the concept of a “universe of relationships” seems to be supported by the fact that “electrons…would collide with the nucleus…However in the natural world the electrons normally remain in an…orbital path”.

Now the litmus test – which is a test done in chemistry (which I also teach at a beginners level) with a slim piece of paper that changes to one color when dipped into an acid and another color when dipped in a base (in chemistry parlance, it’s called an “acid-base indicator”. We actually use a broader-based pH paper now rather than actually litmus paper, but the idea’s the same) – is to see if BOTH line up with what the Bible says about the world.

Philippians 2:5-6 says: “In your relationships with one another, have the same attitude of mind Christ Jesus had: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage”. (TNIV)

In the Gospels, John 1:18 reads, “No one has ever seen God, but the one and only [Son], who is himself God and is in closest relationship with the Father, has made him known.” (TNIV)

How about the Old Testament, that fount of gruesome stories, pages and pages of rules and prophecies of the promised Messiah? Could it have anything to say about quantum relationships? In First Kings 10:1, we read: “When the queen of Sheba heard about the fame of Solomon and his relationship to the LORD, she came to test Solomon with hard questions.” (TNIV) (Purists of course will note that the word “relationship” is not used in the King James Version, but that’s all right here. Grammar, word choices and common usage has changed over time and the words we used then are not the same we use today…)

I would conclude then that the analogy is a good one and that the Church today is in fact a quantum mechanical Church – one of relationships between Jesus Christ and His people; you and me and anyone else who claims Him as their Savior and Master.

Therefore, in relationship with Him and others, we can continue to serve Him in a world that includes hot debate about global warming, Large Hadron Colliders and the everyday, unconscious use of light amplification by the stimulated emission of radiation devices (LASER for those of you unfamiliar with the expanded acronym…)

Comment, anyone?

(image of a Tokyo laser Christmas Tree taken from:

November 26, 2009


(This series is a little biography and a little imagination. The biography will detail a month long trip my dad took in the summer of 1946 when he and a friend hitchhiked from Loring Park to Duluth, Minnesota and back. The motivation, names and details all come from my imagination though. For example, I don't know if Dad ever made it to Anoka’s amphitheater, but you never know! I plan to interview Dad for more details as time goes on. To read earlier SHORT LONG posts, click on the link right. # 1 is on the bottom as you scroll down. Enjoy!)

“We’re never gonna get home,” Tommy Hastings said wearily as the two fourteen-year-old boys hiking the shoulder of US Highway 7. It was dark this far out of Minneapolis; so dark they could barely see their feet.

Freddie Merrill trudging alongside Tommy hadn’t said a word since leaving the Lake Minnetonka parking lot. He hadn’t wiped away the trickle of blood from his nose, either. Just before they’d gone out from under the last street light in Excelsior, Tommy had caught a glimpse of the dribble of blood snaking down his best friend’s upper lip and chin, as if Freddie’s face had a black crack in it. The other boy said suddenly, “Good.”

Tommy glanced at him but didn’t say anything. They kept walking.

Five hours later, the clock in the Municipal Building struck four as the boys reached the north shore of Lake Calhoun. Another fifteen minutes found them at the corner of Hennepin and West 15th. Tommy stopped. Freddie kept walking. His foot pads sounded flat against the cold concrete of the sidewalk.

“You sound like you’re on death row,” Tommy said into the silent, cold air.

Freddie stopped and turned around, his back to the streetlight on the corner. His face was in shadow as he said, “What do you think is gonna happen when I get home? ‘s Mom gonna throw her arms around me and thank God I’m home?” He paused, passed his hand over the stubbly heinie – it’s what they called a “crew cut” on the men still coming back from the war – and said, “I’m dead meat and no mistake.” He turned back and kept going.

“Stay at my house tonight,” Tommy said suddenly. He knew he’d catch it from his dad when they all woke up tomorrow…later on today. But he knew that his dad wasn’t going to beat him to a bloody pulp – his dad was almost 80 for cripe’s sake. He could talk his way out of it, ‘specially if he played the ‘Freddie’s-dad’s-a-drunk-card’. Dad despised the Prohibition of the ‘20s while he and Mom lived in Duluth, but he didn’t hold with men beating boys, either.

Eddie turned his head but kept walking, “What good’ll that do? He’ll just beat me tomorrow then. Or the next day. Whenever he’s sober enough to stand and hit.”

“We’ll go for a month. He can hardly remember what happened last week. In four weeks he’ll have forgot us going to Minnetonka and have something else to be mad about.”

This time Freddie stopped. He didn’t turn around for a long time and when he did, he walked all the way back. He rubbed his hand across his face, stopping at the dried blood. He licked his thumb and worked at cleaning it, almost like a cat would clean its face. When he spoke, he said, “I couldn’t leave Mom.”

“She can take care of herself. She’s working outside most of the time now, anyway.” Freddie nodded slowly, finished cleaning his face and stood with his face shadowed, facing Tommy. He didn’t say “yes”, but he wasn’t refusing, either. Tommy pressed on, “I got some cousins up there or something. Mom’s kin. We could find somewhere to stay.”

Softly, almost in a whisper, Freddie asked, “How’d we get there?”

“Steal a car,” Tommy said without thinking. When Freddie opened his mouth and raised his hands to refuse, Tommy laughed and said, “I’m kidding!” Freddie’s hands went down slowly and Tommy said seriously, “We hitchhike. There’s lotsa people traveling now that the war’s over. People going all over. It should be easy to find a ride.”

“Dad says hitchhiker’s are bums.”

He almost said a cuss word, but Freddie’d really put up a fuss if he did that. His dad would smack him every time he said the “d” word or the “b” word. The “f” word would earn him a black eye and other bruises. “Nah. Not since the war was over. Lots of soldiers hitchhike around.”

Freddie didn’t say anything at first. Finally he said, “We go to Anoka, first then.”

“Huh?” Tommy exclaimed.

“I been to Anoka on the train. Mom and me and Dad went a couple times. My aunt and six cousins are there.”

Tommy agreed instantly, saying, “We’ll sleep at my house, leave at noon and get out there before fireworks.”

Freddie nodded slowly. “OK. What can happen between now and midnight?”

image from:

November 22, 2009

POSSIBLY IRRITATING ESSAY: nook, Kindle and e-readers -- The Triumph of E-Chauvanism

From Nathan Bransford's 11/20/09 column:

"And this is why I believe e-books are going to win in the end, and probably sooner than we think. It's simply vastly more efficient to download any book you could possibly want instantaneously and read a book on a screen (even better if it's a screen you already have, hello smartphone) than to cut down a tree, make paper, print ink on it, bind it, ship it across the country in a plane or a truck or both, and make someone walk or drive to a physical store (who may or may not have the book they want) every time they want to read a book.

"I think we'll look back on the print era and marvel about all those people who were responsible for delivering all these individual printed objects, kind of like how there used to be a fleet of milk men in every city rather than one guy driving a truck to a couple of supermarkets.

"To be sure, no technology disappears completely - people still ride horses, go to plays, type on typewriters, listen to record players, and send handwritten letters. And printed books aren't going to disappear either. All of these technologies have advantages and an associated nostalgia that people will always want to preserve and experience. There will still be printed books and physical bookstores, even if there are far fewer of them.

"But things tend to move in one direction: toward greater efficiency and productivity. There's always a delay as people adapt to the new technology, but prices come down, the technology gets better, and the efficiency spreads.

"Printed books have their advantages, but they don't win where it counts. Nature may abhor a vacuum, but human nature abhors a bottleneck."

Nathan Bransford simply states the general feel of what I've been hearing throughout the writing community as well as the "book" community. As an employee of Barnes and Noble (my extra job), I've been indoctrinated regarding the new nook and I confess the machine is tempting and in all likelihood I'll get one someday if only to be able to keep reading the books I want to read.

Even so, my argument is, was and always will be that ebooks are for the wealthy and the wealthy ONLY. And yes, I am included in that label. In the Seven Worlds Index (, the nook, kindle and other e-readers, will be available to most in the First and Second Worlds, many in the Third and Seventh Worlds, some in the Fourth and Fifth Worlds and few in the Sixth World.

NOT ONE of the poor will be able to afford a book. Not ONLY will they not be able to afford it, even if gifted with one, they will not be able to maintain it. Books need no power. EVERY ereader does. It needs technology to exist, it needs technology to support it, it needs technology to use it.

It is insufferably self-centered of the wealthy to assume that they and they alone read and think. Because that's what it comes down to. The assumption that no one who cannot afford to have an ipod, iphone, nook, kindle or any OTHER ereading device isn't "really" worth the effort to educate is the hidden message in this movement to yank reading from the hands of the poor and concentrate it in the hands of the wealthy -- who will eventually be the only ones able to access new information. The gap has been growing for years and excpet for libraries, shows no sign whatsoever of stopping. (And locally, library funding is regularly curtailed in favor of road funding...)

Last of all, when the comet strikes, when the plague happens, when disaster overcomes the human race and civilization collapses in chaos, we will not be ABLE to access the books online, the CDs, the efiles and ecommerce. Information will disappear or become inaccessible. If we believe that Humanity is eternal and that we will ALWAYS beat the odds, dodge the bullet or survive the plague, then we are not considering history nor are we considering the fallibility and frailty of Humanity.

WHEN it collapses, the more we have stored electronically, the more we will lose. The more we squirrel away in the internet, the more we will have to rediscover when it is forever lost...

November 15, 2009

WRITING ADVICE: Jack McDevitt 6: Use Wooden Dialogue

(The Twelve Blunders are used with permission of Jack McDevitt, from his webpage:

This is one thing in my writing for which I have been praised. In the many times my work has been rejected, I have half as many compliments directed at my dialogue.

Maybe it’s because of an exercise I do when I teach a summer school class for elementary through high schoolers called, Writer To Get Published. When we reach the day for dealing with dialogue, I send the students into the hallways and classrooms to eavesdrop on what people are saying – AND TO WRITE IT DOWN.

Fifteen minutes later, we come back to the classroom to talk about what people REALLY say and what authors REALLY right. For my students, I call it “realistic fake conversation”, but I like McDevitt’s phrasing better: “the illusion of living conversation”. He points out earlier in the article: “Real people interrupt one another constantly, deliver irrelevancies, squint, change the subject, shake their heads, often fail to use complete sentences, and sometimes lose their train of thought altogether.”

While this is entirely true, some authors either don't notice it in their own writing or ignroe the injunction against it. The field of speculative fiction is especially prone to writing stilted dialogue. It's even got it's own name: purple prose.

In SF, we like to think that we are beyond the purple prose of the Golden Age of SF where characters uttered sentences like “As you know, Captain, the space warping technology we possess is very different than the type possessed by the invading aliens because we base our technology on the original theories of Hawking where the invading aliens base theirs on the theories of their equivalent of Einstein, which, as you know…” I tried to do a search on collected examples of SF writers who used an obvious info-dump in a recent book. No one seems to be willing to collect them, perhaps because they don’t want to embarrass the genre. After a quick glance at the next book in my “SF TO READ” pile, I find the second sentence in Wolf and Myers’ SPACE VULTURE. It comes very close to what McDevitt warns against: “These mushrooms after being processed and formed into pills, let users eat all they wanted without gaining weight.”

While that snippet isn’t dialogue, the following bit three pages later alleges to be: “ ‘Interplanetary Statute 462, paragraph 93, subparagraph 4 makes what you did illegal. As to the ethics…’” Just that brief skim has done nothing to entice me to read the book. I know that if a character I enjoyed in a novel abruptly gave an infodump at some point, I might be willing to overlook it once -- but not any more than that. Better to leave the infodumping to Wikipedia.

The best way to check for such ridiculous mistakes in dialogue is to read it out loud. I encourage my students to do it, and I usually do it myself. McDevitt recommends it and asks that you examine it as you read: “How does it sound? If it’s awkward, long-winded, pompous, or formal, get rid of it. One of the pro writer’s most valuable attributes is a willingness to heave material over the side.”

If you happen to have a sample of wooden dialogue or purple prose from a recent speculative fiction novel written by a famous person, share it here. Just for the fun of it, the next time I read a Jack McDevitt novel, I’m going to keep a pen handy to see if he’s followed his own advice. I’ll certainly keep the pen handy for to use on my own novel!

November 12, 2009

A SHORT LONG JOURNEY NORTH 3: July 3, 1946-July 4, 1946

(This series is a little biography and a little imagination. The biography will detail a month long trip my dad took in the summer of 1946 when he and a friend hitchhiked from Loring Park to Duluth, Minnesota. The motivation, names and details all come from my imagination though. For example, I don't know if Dad ever made it to Lake Minnetonka or rode in a 1938 Ford pickup, but you neve know! I plan on interviewing Dad for more details as time goes on...Enjoy.)

Freddie Merrill glared at Tommy Hastings and finally said, “You sure we ain’t gonna get lost? Real sure?” They were standing in front of the tailgate of Leo Hartkopf’s pick up.

Tommy laughed nervously. “How can we get lost walking from the beach here to Leo’s pick up? He’ll probably even drop us off on the other side of Loring Park if we ask nice."

Freddie looked through the back window of the truck at the older boy. He was busy ogling girls lying on the beach. Freddie took a deep breath then said, “All right. I’ll go.”

Tommy vaulted onto the bed of the pickup, scurried forward and slapped the roof. He leaned around the cab and shouted in Leo’s open window, “Let’s go!”

The truck roared noisily to life and Leo ground the gears backing out. A few moments later, they were on the road. Leo would honk at girls in sun dresses and bathing suits and all three boys would wave wildly, Tommy and Freddie standing, pressed against the cab and hanging on for dear life.

In the announced ten minutes, they were on the south shore of the gigantic Lake Minnetonka. Even in the hot sun, they could feel the cool breezes whipping in off the vast body of water. Below them, Leo slowed suddenly, throwing Freddie and Tommy forward. Both boys let out loud whoops! of joy. Leo drove to a parking spot and pulled in. He jumped from the pickup and looked up at them and said, “Have a good time, boys?”

“Great!” Tommy shouted. They vaulted the sides of the truck bed and landed on the ground.

“Let’s go meet the gang,” Leo said, waving them along.

A huge swimming area, close to shore and layered with light gold sand stretched for hundreds of feet. Four white docks stuck out into the blue waters and hundreds of men, women and children played. Dozens of girls in wet bathing suits sunned themselves or sat under broad umbrellas. A volleyball game was going on a ways up shore, with mostly boys on the court and girls cheering and jumping around. Freddie grabbed Tommy’s shirt and said, “Let’s go there!”

Tommy said, “Leo! Can we go watch volleyball?”

Smiling, he met up with two boys his own age who had four girls tagging along behind them. He waved, “Knock yourselves out!”

Freddie sprinted and called over his shoulder, “First one there gets to dunk the last one there five times!” Tommy surged after him, but Freddie had always been faster – it came from keeping out of his dad’s drunken reach.

By the time the last sliver of the sun cast long shadows on Greenwood Beach, twenty boys, girls and teens were ringed around a blazing fire. The great pile of driftwood roared, sending fountains of sparks into the cooling night air to shower down on screaming and laughing kids. Tommy was trying to convince a dark-haired young lady to sit beside him – close beside him – on his now very dirty towel. “I can’t sit there,” she said, giggling. But she didn’t hesitate much when her girlfriends pushed her from behind and she ended up close enough for Tommy to snag her hand and pull her down beside him.

A few feet away, Freddie glowered, planted on a log, his skin flaming red and agonizing. Two girls sat with their backs to him, one brushing the other’s hair, both of them shooting darts at him with their eyes. He surged to his feet and said, “We gotta go. Come on, Tommy.”

“We don’t have to…” Tommy began then looked up at Freddie’s face. He scrambled to his feet muttering apologies to the girl and hurried after Freddie as he stalked off for the parking lot.

When he caught up, he said, “What’s wrong, buddy? What’d I do…”

“It wasn’t you. I’m just tired. And sunburned. And those girls were getting’ on my nerves.”

Tommy laughed, “Girls always get on your nerves…” Freddie shot him a dark look as they reached the parking lot. It was cold now away from the fire.

Freddie stopped suddenly. “Where’s the pickup?”

The parking lot was practically empty. Of the few cars there, none were pickups. Tommy stared, mouth open. He said, “He said he’d tell us when he left!”

“When did he say that?” Freddie asked. He scanned the parking lot five times, his head sweeping back and forth, back and forth. “Where is he?” he exclaimed, his voice cracking.

“Hey, don’t worry. I’m sure he just went away for a little while. He’ll be back…”

Freddie whirled and ran into the parking lot, shouting, “Leon! Leon! Where are you?”

Tommy chased him down, but when Freddie took a swing at him, Tommy ran at him and tackled him in the grass along the edge of the lot. Freddie was crying by the time they hit the ground, covering his head and rolling back and forth, moaning, “He’s gonna beat me! He’s gonna beat me!”

Tommy pinned him, but it was like Freddie didn’t even notice the knee in his chest, bawling louder and harder. Finally Tommy grabbed the front of his shirt, dragged him to his feet and got him walking. From Minnetonka, he could see the faint glow of the massed lights of Minneapolis in the sky and with the wailing Freddie by his side, he started off along the asphalt strip of Highway 7, knowing that even though they weren’t lost, he might lose Freddie to his drunken father’s rage when they got home.

If they ever got there.

November 11, 2009

My Blog on another site: Heinlein's Heirs

I sometimes write essays for another website that belongs to science fiction writer, Bruce Bethke. Go here:

if you want to read my blog!

November 8, 2009

Slice of PIE: Interstates Over Park Reserves; Postmodernism Over Original Faith

Driving south on US 169 west of Minneapolis, is a 21st Century bridge that spans a piece of the Minnesota Valley National Wildlife Refuge. This concrete expanse allows no exit into the Refuge below and except for a brown highway sign marking its existence and the expanse of trees and swamp (note: this is an unkind way to say "marshland"), lake and river. You pass over it in a matter of moments and there are no lights pointing down into the Refuge pointing out the sights.

If you aren't interested in the Refuge, you wouldn't even know it's there. I would venture a guess and say that the vast majority of people passing over this section of the National Wildlife Refuge pay no attention whatsoever to the wildlife below because the "wildlife" of the typical commuter rush occupies their attention. I would boldy venture to say that to most people, the Refuge doesn't matter at all -- what's important is what is on US 169. The fact that it passes over a National Wildlife Refuge is insignificant compared to the fact that it carries a huge number of people to and from their homes to work and from their work to home each day.

What does an interstate and a wildlife refuge have to do with postmodernism and original faith?

The connection should be obvious! If not, let me illuminate.

By definition, postmodernism is, in plain English, a "system of observation and thought that denies absolutes and objectivity" and "rejects a notion of universal truth but emphasises that meaning is in appearance and interpretation". Maybe that wasn't plain enough. This is my own defintion given what I've learned and experienced of the postmodern church: "Scripture, God and Jesus can be interpreted by the people within a culture based on what can be seen and thought because we can't be objective about our faith".

Though some postmodern Christian movements claim that their "interpretation" is closer to the origins of St. Augustine than 21st Century evangelical or conservative Christianity, I would dispute that. Liberal theology, Christian existentialism, radical orthodoxy, hermaneutics and weak theology -- all schools of thought of postmodern Christianity -- may lay claim the same roots as the faith of the early church, but I believe that they pass over those roots just as the shiny new 21st Century bridge passes over the wildlife refuge. The practitioners of such thought have much in common with the commuters on the US 169 bridge over the Minnesota Valley Wildlife Refuge: none of them believe that the original below them is of any importance to the shining newness above.

Neither of them seem interested in considering the roots -- the real roots -- of the postmodern bridge they so blithely travel over. Neither of them seems interested in noticing the reality of what lies below the construct they've worked so hard to build and whose ultimate future lies in crumbling ruin and reabsorption by the original reality from which both sprang.

image from:

November 5, 2009


November is National Novel Writing Month and for the first time in my life, I'm participating. So my writing time has been consumed by the "novel" I'm working on. If you're interested in the site and in what NaNoWriMo is, go here:

This to say that I'm not done with my entry for today. I'll let you know when it's posted!

November 1, 2009

POSSIBLY IRRITATING ESSAYS: Dream of Suspended Animation, Nightmare of Cryonics

Since I started reading books and watching science fiction movies, I have dreamed of going into a suspended animation tube like the Robinson’s did in LOST IN SPACE and sleeping in my starship as it crossed incredible distances – then waking in orbit around a new world.

Even as I grew older, the idea of suspended animation or human hibernation has remained a profound hope. There are hints and clues that this might be possible: dogs have been frozen for brief periods and most of them resuscitated without brain damage. Pigs with profound blood loss from an induced bleed had the volume replaced with frigid saline, the vessels repaired and were wakened. Mice breathing hydrogen sulfide gas had their metabolism reduced ten-fold – though the experiment did not work with larger mammals, it may be a matter of finding the right combination to work for humans. Chemical induction of hibernation holds some possibilities as well. Clearly, animals sleep for extended periods of time; some amphibians are frozen solid and then thaw unharmed. There is a clear movement to growing this technology that will end with procedures that have applications in human and animal medicine, emergency medical services as well as my own dream of long-term space travel.

Enter the nightmare of cryonics. While I’d heard rumors about this decades ago as well as rumors that Gene Rodenberry of STAR TREK fame had been cryopreserved (he wasn’t – a small portion of his ashes were put into orbit in 1997. That orbit decayed by 2004 and those remains were incinerated on reentry), I didn’t actually find any facts until reading the book, GREAT MAMBO CHICKEN AND THE TRANSHUMAN CONDITION (Ed Regis, 1991). There, cryonics was portrayed, if not in shining light then in a favorable light. For years, while gently mocking the concept of freezing bodies and brains for later healing and revival as it occurred in the STAR TREK: THE NEXT GENERATION episode, “The Neutral Zone”; I held little hope that such a process might become feasible.

Now even that faint hope is smashed like a pumpkin on Halloween night. In his new book, FROZEN A True Story: My Journey Into the World of Cryonics, Deception and Death, Larry Johnson (with Scott Baldyga), the author brings to light truly horrific details perpetrated by the California company, Alcor. The very last hope that ANYONE might die and then be revived by future “magical medicine”, has been permanently dashed when shown the conditions under which the cryopatients were processed. The only way anyone might ever be recovered from Alcor is by finding a cell and cloning an entire new person. Then the purpose of cryopreservation would be defeated – the memories and personality of the patient would be entirely lost.

Worst of all though, now that the charade is revealed and doubtless about to collapse, any chance that current scientists might advance any real discoveries leading to breakthroughs or the development of a real science of cryopreservation are gone, perhaps forever. And THAT makes me mad. How about you?

One last question: if someone were cryopreserved and then resuscitated, would their soul come back from heaven, hell, paradise, limbo or nirvana?

October 29, 2009

THE RECONSTRUCTION OF MAI LI HASTING 8: Reconstructing a (Haunted) House

CJ Hastings stared at the door to Mai Li’s room. He’d been staring at it five times a day for the past ten days. He stared at it when he came upstairs to shower in the morning, before he went to school, when he came home, while Mom made supper and before he went to bed. A couple times he’d come up to stare at it when he woke up in the middle of the night from the nightmare that was always the same.

Mom walked up behind him and put her hand on his shoulder. She waited a few minutes before saying, “Are you as scared as I am?”

CJ shook his head. He hadn’t had an answer for her for the ten days that had passed since she’d been injected with nanomachines that were supposed to reconstruct her brain. This morning he said, “More. Way, way more.”

Mom stepped around in front of him and lifted his chin up. She didn’t have to lift up as much as she had last year. Maybe he was finally going to be normal for a thirteen-year-old finally. She said, “What’s that mean?”

He shrugged. She scowled and said, “The shrink said we’ve got to talk about this or we’ll go crazy.”

He shrugged again but added, “She’s not gonna be the Mai Li we know, Mom.”

Mom nodded and turned away, releasing him. “I know.” She took a deep breath, held it and let it go. “Wasn’t that the point?”

“Yeah, but…”

Mom smiled faintly. “Remember, ‘no more yeah, buts’”

He smiled, too. “She’ll be better, right?”

Mom nodded. “They’ll be here later today to bring her out.” Mai Li had been in a chemically induced coma so that the nanomachines could not only reconstruct her neural pathways, but also map out her damaged brain for research. “I’ll be by to pick you up from school early.”

“Are you going to work?”

“No. I took a…a…paternity leave for the next three months. I’ll be able to stay home with Mai Li while she’s…” she stopped, unable to find the word.

“…changing?” CJ said.

Mom nodded, patted his shoulder and said, “You’d better get going. I don’t want you to miss your bus.”

He nodded slowly then said suddenly, “Mom, I’m been having a dream about Mai Li.”

Frowning, Mom came back to him. “What kind of dreams?”

“Not ‘dreams’. Just one dream. Four times.”

“Didn’t you tell the psychologist?”

He shook his head. “It was too weird.”

“What was the dream about?”

“Mai Li,” he paused, frowning. It was such a weird dream. Another reason he didn’t tell the psychologist was that he didn’t want her to laugh at him. He took a deep breath and said in a rush, “In my dream, I’m standing outside Mai Li’s door and it opens suddenly. She’s standing there, dressed like a model or something. It’s like it’s her but not her. She looks like other people, only she looks like Mai Li, too. She stares at me for a second then smiles, reaches out, takes my hands and we start waltzing together. Through the house, to the front door – it’s wide open for some reason, and there’s no screen door on it – and right out on to the steps. Then there’s photographers and camera people and news reporters and webanchors and everything. Mai Li stops dancing, lets go of my hands, steps back and then points at me and starts laughing. Everybody laughs with her. Then she leans real close and says to me, ‘I don’t need you any more, baby brother. Go away.’” He was trembling and he hadn’t been able to keep the tears from leaking out of his eyes. He blinked fast and squeezed the bridge of his nose, sniffling. Looking up, he saw that Mom wasn’t even looking at him. She was patting his shoulder, but she was looking down the hallway, to the front door that they’d waltzed out in his nightmare.

She took a shuddering breath, patted him one last time and said, “Well, you’d better get going to school.”

CJ blinked a half dozen times then sprinted past her to the front door. He stopped.

Mom called from back in the house, “She’s always going to need you, Christopher. No matter who she becomes after this, she’s always going to need you.”

He ran out the door to catch his bus.

October 25, 2009

WRITING ADVICE: Jack McDevitt 5: Driving the Narrative, or "Lost in the B Plot"

(The Twelve Blunders are used with permission of Jack McDevitt, from his webpage:

I read about writing a lot.

I'm also an extremist -- ask my wife and kids.

So when I get hold of an idea, I focus on it almost to the exclusion of everything else. Maybe that's why I haven't been able to give away my writing for the past four years. (And, "no", I don't consider blogging "real" writing. It IS on a technicality -- but I see it more like wishful thinking on the part of the great, unpublished masses (I include myself in that number lately)).

I remember one of the first ideas was "Write like a shark", which meant that I should just bull my way through the story and polish it later. That's the philosophy of National Novel Writing Month (which I joined this year). You write and don't look back until you're done. I did that with great gusto and verve -- and the result was very little success.

Then it was The First Five Pages and how everything had to be on those first five pages because that's what the reader and agents wanted to see. That methodology was the object of my writing focus for several months with no notable success.

After that, I read Donald Maass' book, WRITING THE BREAKOUT NOVEL and I distilled that book to its essentials and made up an anagram which I slavishly followed for two years. And the result was very little success.

Following on the heels of Maass, I began the practice of writing short articles on a blog (I called them flashicles at first...ouch) and as you can see, I've continued that process. I currently get about 100 hits per article and 25 hits per story flash -- so that's been a GOOD thing for me.

Then it was the Bransford Plot. Agent Nathan Bransford wrote about plotting novels and stories and gave some sterling advice (which I wrote about here in "A First Report on the Flash Fiction Experiment" on October 28, 2008).

Now I abruptly realize my problem -- I've ignored the root of story for all the shiny flowers and leaves of the writing tree. The root of story is what McDevitt is talking about in this writing blunder. I haven't written about "what's important".

Comparing my published work: "Mystery on Space Station Courage", "Pig Tales", "Dear Hunter" and the others, I see now that when I wrote them, I had a "message" -- there was a purpose. I was trying to "say something" important. Propaganda is ALSO writing that is trying to "say something" but it tends to be heavy-handed and not very interesting. (Every good story is well-written propaganda though, putting across the writer's ideals and ideas...) McDevitt points out: "...we have to get the reader on board, enlist their sympathies in the pursuit of whatever objective the protagonist hopes to achieve." I have to ask myself WHY is my story important? What do I want the reader to take away? I have to examine the work of other writers -- if only from my own perspective. I have to ask: What stories have stayed with me through the years? I can think of several and all of them precipitated a sense of my emotional involvement in the story line. In fact, as I think back to my own writing, I was emotionally involved with the stories of mine that were published...

Hmmm...WITHOUT becoming an extremist, maybe I've learned something here!