April 29, 2010

A SHORT LONG JOURNEY NORTH 10: July 6, 1946 to July 7, 1946

Making the ABNA Top 50, getting a new job, writing a report on SMARTboard technology in my classroom and midquarters next week kept me WAY busy. That's why I'm late THIS time. So, as usual: This series is a little bit biographical about my dad and a road trip he took in the summer of 1946, when he turned fifteen. He and a friend hitch-hiked 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 imaginary elements and what's below is the result! To read earlier SHORT LONG JOURNEY NORTH, click on the label to the right. The FIRST entry is on the bottom!

The two boys looked like hobo refugees, but neither had ever seen anything like these people.

Freddie Merrill looked up at the young woman who looked as much like an angel as the old woman in Anoka had looked like a witch. He whispered, "Yes, ma'am, we surely do need a ride."

Tommy Hastings dug his elbow into Freddie's ribs. He didn't like the look of a dark-haired young man in the pin-striped suit. It had to be like a hundred degrees out! And he was wearing a suit and tie. Dad only wore a suit and tie to funerals, weddings and when they went to church on Christmas and Easter.

Freddie didn't notice as the woman said, "Well then, why don't ya'll come on up and we'll give you a lift."

The man's grin disappeared. He glared at the woman, then added, "You'll sit in the back."

The boys nodded and grunted as they climbed out of the ditch. He popped open what looked like the trunk of the sports coupe. There was a seat beneath it, turned so they faced backwards. He reached in and grabbed a pair of cases shaped like violins. Tommy's eyes bugged out. The man looked at him and flashed a sudden smile. Tommy had seen had seen wolves at Como Park Zoo do the same thing. Right before they jumped at each , snarling, snapping and fighting.

Without hardly taking his eyes off the woman, Freddie climbed into the back seat as he went up to the river's seat.

She called back, "You boys ready?"

Freddie stood up, turned and called back, "Ready whenever..."

The man floored the accelerator and Freddie'd have fallen out if Tommy hadn't grabbed him. There were quickly going so fast that the contryside became a blur.

Tommy said, "Did you see those violin cases."

Freddie frowned, shook his head and shouted, "What?"

Tommy shouted his question.

Freddie shouted back, "So what if they both play violins?"

"Those aren't violins, stupid!"

Freddie scowled and shouted back, "What are they?"

Tommy lowered his voice, "Machine guns!"


"Machine guns!"

"She's not a mobster!" Freddie shouted.

"How do you know?"

"She's too pretty!"

"Mobsters can be pretty! Look at Bonnie and Clyde!"

"They're dead," Freddie shouted as the car swerved right, throwing the boys to one side, then speeding up as they roared past the St. Francis Dry Goods & Hardware Store. "Wow!" shouted Freddie, "That was fast!"

"Tommy slugged him, "If they figure out we k now they're mobsters, they'll kill us!" The coupe sped up again.

Freddie shook his head, "How do you know all this?"

"I read it at the drugstore."

"In those pulp magazines?" Tommy nodded and Freddie continued to shout, "I thought your ma was gonna beat the tar outta you if you ever read one again?"

Tommy shrugged and shouted back, "I can't stop!" They sat in silence as the coupe raced on and they passed through more small towns. The sun started to drop toward the horizon and there were less and less farms and more and more woods around them.

Finally the coupe slowed. Freddie leaned over the edge of the seat and looked forward. There wasn't as much noise, so he turned and said to Tommy in a lower voice, "There's a farm on the left and there's a bunch of cars parked there, like at the State Fair." His eyes were wide.

Tommy leaned over Freddie who leaned back as the coupe slowed and turned off the paved road, crunched over gravel and into a barnyard. It stopped.

Bonnie and Clyde got out. Bonnie came back to them, smiling sweetly. "Here we are boys!" She threw a glance over at the sun, which was about to kiss the horizon. "You might want to spend the night in the barn and then get on your way tomorrow morning." She waved to them as Clyde can up behind her and scowled at them.

He said, "You tell anyone where this is and I'll have to do sometime about it." Tommy and Freddie shrank back in the seat, both of them nodding. Clyde leaned closer, "Something serious." They turned and walked toward the barn which was filled with people.

Tommy looked at Freddie and they jumped from the back seat and didn't look back as they bolted from the farm and back out to the road.

April 28, 2010

Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award...

Guy Stewart is totally stunned to announce that he has now made the next cut in the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award contest...he is now in competition with 49 other wonderful writers and their books...You can see the list here (along with the slight misspelling of the title -- Xictory of Fists (should be VICTORY OF FISTS)...


You can also read the first three chapters if you click on the link to the right!

April 25, 2010

POSSIBLY IRRITATING ESSAY: Another Round of Pullman vs. Lewis & Tolkien

Why here, why now?

First of all, I’m reading Colin Duriez’ short book, TOLKIEN AND C.S. LEWIS: THE GIFT OF FRIENDSHIP (2003 by HiddenSpring Press) in which he explores not only the writing of both men and their faith in Christ, but also their friendship and how it developed out of scholarship.

Secondly, this brought to mind a contemporary Englishman who has made his career into one of promoting a loathing of Christians: Philip Pullman. I’ve noted in his interviews that while he has sometime claimed himself atheist and sometime agnostic, (but all the time humanist); he hasn’t taken many swings at the basic tenets of Christianity in his children’s books. (He does in his newest, though I haven’t read it yet and I’m on the library waiting list for THE GOOD MAN JESUS AND THE SCOUNDREL CHRIST, which is reviewed in the Guardian below.)

Other people have answered Pullman’s many claims about what Lewis wrote, what he meant and what Pullman thinks of him.4 I won’t go there except to point out that where Tolkien and Lewis were both Oxford dons and graduated from their alma maters with honors, Pullman barely squeaked out of Exeter College in Oxford with what he calls “a Third class BA in 1968…it was the year they stopped giving fourth class degrees otherwise I’d have got one of those".

I’m going to look at these works of fantasy from a slightly different point of view. Pullman evaluates what he’s written in HIS DARK MATERIALS as “trying to do something different: tell a story about what it means to grow up and become adult…I’m telling a story about a realistic subject, but I’m using the mechanism of fantasy. I think that’s slightly unusual…True experience, not fantasy – reality, not lies – is what saves us in the end…[PRINCE CASPIAN is] “full of bullying and sneering, propaganda, basically on behalf of a religion whose main creed seemed to be to despise and hate people unlike yourself. Whatever Christianity says, I don’t think it’s that.” 1 “…fantasy doesn’t nourish in the way that good realistic fiction does. Whenever I’m asked about HIS DARK MATERIALS, I like to refer to it not as fantasy but as stark realism…I’m realistic in everything I write…even a fairy tale…has to have some grounding in psychological truth. It has to tell us something about what it means to be human…that is where Tolkien falls down…all the human questions for him were already answered since he was a devout Catholic…there was nothing left to say…I don’t write messages, I write stories.”2 “…the fantasy (which, of course, is there: no one but a fool would think I meant there is not fantasy in the books at all) is there to support and embody [matters that might normally be encountered in works of realism, such as adolescence, sexuality and so on], not for its own sake.”3

First of all, I’d like to point out that Pullman has never actually had to face Lewis or Tolkien, so neither man has ever had the opportunity to debate any of his accusations. He speaks to the ringing applause of anti-Narnia and anti-Middle Earth sycophants.

Secondly, both Lewis’ and Tolkien’s works grew out of their experiences in World War I and World War II – the horror of fighting and being wounded as soldiers in WWI and the terror inspired by the Nazi invasion of Poland and other European countries and the English mobilization against it in WWII. Pullman implies that neither man writes realistically. War – the only reality at the time – is woven intrinsically through both the CHRONICLES and H/LOTR. Oddly, Pullman never speaks of having been to the Arctic.

Thirdly, if Pullman’s intent is to write “psychological truth. It has to tell us something about what it means to be human”, then I put out to you that he, too was writing propaganda. Lewis and Tolkien both wrote about “psychological truth” – though it seems to me that no writer can write of anything BUT the psychological truth of their world view.

Last of all is perhaps my most serious counter-accusation: neither Lewis nor Tolkien set out to become celebrities. Both preferred the lives they led as Oxford dons, studying, writing dense treaties on language and Renaissance literature, lecturing undergraduates and mentoring graduates. They became celebrities organically through no effort of their own, as their books were read and passed on from one person to another. Pullman’s notoriety has come not from the word-of-mouth passing of his books from one person to another, but from ad campaigns and from taking the “controversial” stance of bad-mouthing Lewis and Tolkien (as if he were the first to do so…both men had their detractors (including each other!) even before they published the CHRONICLES and H/LOTR). It’s my opinion that his notoriety has come through the promotion of his opinion (which carries far more weight that mine, obviously) through the internet and the prevailing wind of anti-religious fervor. He sarcastically comments: “…Lewis’ books have sold more [copies] than mine. Well they would, with a fifty-year start, wouldn’t you think?”3

Pullman would like his contribution to literature to be that his work would “help us to enjoy life, or to endure it. I’d be happy with either of those valuable aspirations.” 2 Apparently, neither Tolkien nor Lewis will be accorded that same aspiration from him, despite the fact that their works have helped people “enjoy life, or to endure it.” I’m hoping someone will be around in 2045 to make a quick comparison and see whose series has sold more in fifty years and more importantly, which series has continued to help people “enjoy life or to endure it”. My prediction should be obvious.

Specific references:

1 -- http://www.powells.com/authors/pullman.html

2 -- http://www.amazon.com/gp/feature.html?ie=UTF8&docId=79470

3 -- http://www.achuka.co.uk/archive/interviews/ppint.php

4 -- http://www.planetnarnia.com/assets/documents/74/Lewis_and_Pullman.pdf

Others of interest:



First time I could find written record of Pullman criticizing Lewis


April 18, 2010

WRITING ADVICE: Nathan Bransford 1 – How a Book Gets Published

Nathan Bransford is a West Coast agent with the New York literary agency, Curtis Brown, Ltd. For the past nine years, he has been writing a popular blog reflecting on and illuminating the publishing world. Humorous, serious and ultimately enlightening, I’ll be looking at how THE ESSENTIALS (PLEASE READ BEFORE YOU QUERY) have had an impact on my writing. I am using them with his permission and if you’d like to read his blog (which I highly recommend, even if it’s just to see “A Dog Tests the iPad”), go to http://blog.nathanbransford.com/.

As I don’t have an agent yet for any of my books and I’ve been submitting to various publishers “over the transom” (curious about this allusion? Go here: http://www.scribendi.com/advice/glossary.en.html#O) or through contests and offers of open readings, I can’t say I know about this from personal experience. Nathan Bransford says, “The submission process can take anywhere from a week to a year or more depending on when/if the agent finds a match for the project.”

This has given me much pause to reflect, mostly in a good way.

I’m impatient. I used to be even more impatient than I am now. I wanted to send out my stories and find out immediately that the editor wanted to publish it. I also wanted the check right away, too!

I discovered that that is NOT how professional publishing works when I had my first really big professional sale. The story, “Mystery on Space Station Courage” (If you or your library has an EBSCO membership, you can read the story here: http://connection.ebscohost.com/content/article/1029894921.html) was published in 1996 in CRICKET MAGAZINE. What came as a shock was the road I took to get there. I sent the story to them in the summer of 1993, received an acceptance at Thanksgiving the same year; did a couple of rewrites over the next six months and had the story accepted for publication. It appeared in the November 1996 issue and I was paid shortly thereafter. From submission to check, it took THREE YEARS.

My book, SIMPLE SCIENCE SERMONS FOR BIG AND LITTLE KIDS (http://www.amazon.com/Simple-Science-Sermons-Little-Kids/dp/0788012940) took a bit over a year from acceptance through galley draft correction to publication.

I know the process – not with an agent, but with my own stories. I can only imagine that adding in the step of an agent will make it longer, if more fulfilling in the end. But it’s VARIABLE -- "...anywhere from a week to a year or more..."

Nathan Bransford’s advice illustrates the real craziness of the publishing industry and brought back to my mind the aphorism that “patience is a virtue” – or more importantly, it's led me to further cultivate the fruit of the spirit: “For the fruits of the spirit are love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.” (Galatians 5:22-23)

April 15, 2010


Daniel Keyes’ FLOWERS FOR ALGERNON: the story has stayed with me for decades, a symbol for both the overwhelming possibilities of the human intellect and the overwhelming impossibilities faced by a profoundly challenged human mind. I’ve started and stopped this novel a half a dozen times in eleven years. I want to bring the original idea into the present millennium. To read RECONSTRUCTION from beginning to here, click on the label to the right and scroll to the bottom.

The door slammed behind him as he sprinted for the garage and grabbed his bike.

Disgusted, he wiped away the tears that sprang up in his eyes. He didn’t have time to cry now! He didn’t have time to be “sensitive” – which is what the girls at school called it. They said that’s why they wanted to date him. That’s why Mom always said, “Not yet. Your heart’s too young.”

He wished Job Doe, his best friend, was around. He wasn’t sensitive or any other crap like that! He was a real guy, even though he came from Liberia! But CJ didn’t have time to go over to Job’s house. He didn’t have time for Job to argue with his parents. And they’d invite him over for supper and then cook it while he was waiting, sitting in the living room…

This was life or death and he was gonna have to take care of Mai Li himself. Mom wasn’t gonna be any help now. He rubbed at his eyes with the back of his wrist. It was really, really dark out, and what he hadn’t told Mom was that it was supposed to rain tonight.

No time to wait, though. No time at all.

Ever since they were little, CJ had known stuff about Mai Li. Knew when she was going to cry. Knew when she was going to get sick.

Right now, he knew that she was heading into trouble.

No…not trouble…he knew that in some way, her life was going to be in danger. He pedaled hard, the googlemap clear in his head. It’s why he was great at math – he could remember formulas and equations and could do them in his head. It also didn’t explain why he sucked at reading and couldn’t read a word out loud without slobbering all over himself with mistakes.

He turned on to the divided highway heading west, past the college and into Sugarmaple Grove, a city with lots of money. He wished they lived there…

No time for that now. He had to save Mai Li. She needed him.

He snorted and tears sprang to his eyes again. She didn’t need him. She didn’t need anybody anymore. He scanned the streets, blinking hard. There was no way Mai Li was going to be hanging around now. She’d gone three hours ago. But he knew her – at least he USED to know her – as good as he knew himself. Sure, she’d probably been born with terrible brain damage. If the Neisen’s hadn’t been at the refugee camp to take her, she’d have been thrown out with the garbage.

But she had a brain that worked still. She had moods. She figured out problems all the time. She knew him.

The Neisen’s were about five miles from home. He figured he’d gone a mile already. He pedaled hard past the community college. He looked over at the parking lot just as the first sprinkles of rain started to fall.

A totally hot classic, 2009 BDY F3DM hummed in the parking lot. A rear door popped open, a woman screamed. A body tumbled out as the car snarled away, the owner having rigged the underside to fire off static electricity bolts when he floored the accelerator.

He knew the scream instantly. From one side of the divided highway, he nearly hit the divider but jumped it then jumped the following curb and flew through the parking lot until he slammed his brakes on at the head of the body.

As the rain began in earnest, pouring around him, Mai Li rolled on to her back, looked up at him and burst into tears.

Dropping his bike and pulling out his cellphone, he did the same as he called the police.


April 11, 2010



Now that I have your attention, let me continue in a slightly more serious vein and offer you some evidence for the statement above.

What sparked this was the song, “Be Still” by the band Storyside :B. Follow the link, listen to the Youtube and then come back here:


The chorus reiterates over and over that “we are not alone”.

*ninety degree turn*

World-class astronomer, space popularizer and the author of the book that became the hit movie, CONTACT, believed in his heart of heart and “…spent [his life] trying to establish links between strange phenomena and the existence of life in outer space…Carl Sagan theorized that alien life such as bacteria exist not only in our planet but throughout the universe. He also insisted that it is impossible that no other intelligent life exists in the universe other than on Earth.http://www.buzzle.com/articles/aliens-are-there-aliens.html (I note that this statement is not a direct quote as I could not find out when or where it originated. Many websites repeat this statement.) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Carl_Sagan. Based on some 138 quotes attributed to Carl Sagan’s writings (http://www.goodreads.com/author/quotes/10538.Carl_Sagan), I think it is safe to say that he was a materialist. Materialism is a position that believes that all things that are real have a material or physical substance. It discounts any metaphysical reality. www.postmodernpsychology.com/Postmodernism_Dictionary.html

Yet Sagan – and all the other materialist science fiction readers and writers have no evidence whatsoever that life exists off of Earth. Yet they do not hesitate to say that they “believe” that there is such life. I submit that based on their previous track record of non-belief in the unseeable and an inability to accept anything that does not have physical substance, that scientific materialists are intellectually, culturally, and spiritually UNPREPARED to believe in alien life and will be poor choices for First Contact.

Christians on the other hand, have plenty of experience with the belief that we are NOT alone in the universe. Hebrews 12:1 states: “Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us…”

Romans 8:38 also intimates the Christian belief that we are not alone in the universe: “For I am convinced that neitherangels, nor principalities…nor powers…will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord."

Christians – and others of deep faith – KNOW that they are not alone in the universe. We have contemplated it, believed it, lived it, prayed it and for us, “others out there” is a matter not only of faith, but of incontrovertible, EVERY DAY fact.

Materialist scientists can only IMAGINE really, really hard that there is intelligent life in the universe and hope that it’s possible that their imagination is factual.

Who would you rather have talking to the Klingons the first time – someone who has always known that that they were not alone and spoken regularly and intelligently with those Others. Or would you like someone who just found out that their imagination wasn’t anywhere near weird enough and are now tongue-tied or babbling incoherently as the Other is suddenly standing in front of them?

I know who I would pick.

April 1, 2010


This series is a little biography about my dad and a little imagination about a trip he took the summer of 1946 – he was almost fifteen. He and his friend hitchhiked to Duluth. He says it was “something to do”. I prefer to think there was a more cosmic, mysterious reason. Hence, this story. To read earlier SHORT LONG JOURNEY NORTH posts click on the link to your right. Number one is on the bottom as you scroll down…

Two hours.

Two hours.

Two hours.

It was nearly noon and for six hours, Freddie Merrill and Tommy Hastings said fifteen words between them. Mostly cuss words. The word “dying” came up twice. The rest were “shut up”.

Cows mooed.

Crows flew in noisy flocks overhead.

There was nothing but brown grass and the intense, green leaves of potato plants and emerald corn stalks just shy of knee high because it had been a dry summer so far. The narrow asphalt strip they followed wound over bridges and streams and along the Rum River. A highway marker right outside of Anoka had the number 56 emblazoned on it. They didn’t see the next marker until it was noon.

Suddenly Freddie said, “Do Communists die of sunstroke?”

“I don’t know. I’m not a Communist,” said Tommy.

“My dad’s gonna think I’m a Communist when he gets the call from my aunt.”

“He’s not gonna think you’re a Communist.”

“How do you know?”

“I just know,” snapped Tommy.

Freddie stopped in the middle of the road and turned to face Tommy. He shouted, “How do you know?”

Tommy shouted back, “I just do!”

“Are you a warlock?”

“So I’m a warlock and a Commie now?”

“How else could you have made me come with you to Anoka and now we’re going to Alaska?” Freddie shouted.

“I didn’t make you come with me and we’re going to Duluth, not Alaska!”

“Then why aren’t we there yet?”

“We’ve only been walking for six hours, that’s why!” Tommy shouted.

“When will we get to Duluth?”

“I don’t care!”

“Well I do! When are we gonna get there?”

“If you ask that again, I’m gonna punch you in the nose,” snarled Tommy.

Freddie put his fists on his hips and mimicking Tommy, said, “‘When are we gonna get there?’”

Tommy rushed Freddie, who grabbed his shirt to throw him into the ditch. But Tommy grabbed Freddie’s shirt and together both boys went flying across the road and tumbled down into the ditch. Neither one noticed as they were too busy beating on each other to pay much attention.

They kept at it until the sudden blare of a car’s horn startled them to their feet, both boys now wearing torn shirts, with skinned knees, scratched legs and bloody noses. Tommy’s eye was already beginning to swell shut and Freddie’s split lip added blood to the steady drip from his nose.

On the road above them stood a young woman in a cream-colored dress with tiny blue flowers on it. She wore matching high heels and a rounded hat from which hung a cream-colored net veil. She was leaning on the horn of a car that matched the color of her dress.

Beside her stood a man in a suit wearing a red tie who had his arms folded over his chest and was grinning at them.

The woman said, “You boys need a lift?”