February 27, 2011

WRITING ADVICE: Mike Duran #5 – The Danger of Writing Rules

I have never seen Mike Duran. We “met” online a couple years ago because of a little…altercation I caused by saying something less-than-nice about Christian speculative fiction on his blog. Mike, being both a spec-fic writer and editor, won me closer to his side with gentle and wise words. Since then I’ve found that Mike has lots of gentle and wise words. I’m looking at how some of them have had an impact on my own writing in these WRITING ADVICE posts. (Quotes are used with his permission.) He also participates in “ONE OF WRITER'S DIGEST 101 MOST VALUABLE WEBSITES FOR WRITERS, 2008 & 2010”, NOVEL JOURNEY at http://noveljourney.blogspot.com/.

In a July 2010 blog entry, Mike Duran says, “If the primary goal of a story is to take us somewhere, then the ‘writing rules’ must be subservient to that end. Much like a map, aesthetics are secondary to functionality.”

The “writing rules” he’s talking about here are the ones all new writers hear over and over again:

  • Show Don’t Tell — Use action and dialog rather than exposition
  • POV — Maintain a consistent, realistic narrative point-of-view; don’t “head hop” from one person to the next in the same scene
  • Avoid Passives — Keep tenses active; “Dean killed the cat is” better than “The cat was killed by Dean”

“By over-emphasizing writing rules we unwittingly create a ‘checklist mentality’ that places style above story and ‘pointlessly constricts writers’ options and narrows their range.’ Of course, new writers need to understand the rules.” Mike Duran says in essence that following the rules is NOT the right thing to do. Well, maybe that’s not exactly what he’s saying, but “writing rules must be subservient to…tak(ing) us somewhere” comes close.

I understand his point, but I’m afraid it’s pretty much only understandable to experienced – maybe even only professionally published – writers.

I’ve been teaching writing classes to gifted and talented fourth through twelfth graders for fifteen years. During that time, I’ve also done presentations to thousands of young people at Young Author’s Conferences and received dozens of manuscripts for critique. I’ve been approached by hopeful parents asking if I had an agent. Twice I was the “Grand Prize – a year working with published writer Guy Stewart!” That time, I worked with one adult writer each year and spent hundreds of hours critiquing their ideas, style, logic and grammar.

After all that, I am going to say that the rules CANNOT be subservient to style.

What is style? It has two definitions applicable to writing. The first: “editorial directions to be followed in spelling and punctuation and capitalization and typographical display”; and second: “a way of expressing something that is characteristic of a particular person or group of people or period”

I doubt any writer would argue the first, so I believe that the second definition is the one Mike Duran’s article is decrying. After reading thousands of stories by young and old alike, I have reached the conclusion that unless a writer knows the rules so well that they can explain to you exactly which one they are breaking, why and what the intended effect is, then they need to follow the rules.

If they do not follow the rules, then the story becomes incoherent or entirely unreadable. When the author confidently submits to a professional market and they are turned down, it leads to billions of blog posts and comments that boil down to “they JUST don’t understand my brilliance!”

So if Mike Duran and Frank Peretti and Gene Wolfe and Franz Kafka want to break the rules, that’s fine. Superb writing is sometimes the result. But UNTIL they learn to write according to the rules, they need to stay with them.

I would amend Mike Duran’s comment to read, “we knowingly create a ‘checklist mentality’ that places style above story and allows writers’ options to become focused so that they can later broaden their range”.


image: http://www.scott-warner.com/webimages/TenCommandments.jpg

February 24, 2011


I read the play version of Daniel Keyes’ FLOWERS FOR ALGERNON when I was in eighth grade. It has stayed with me for decades, a haunting symbol for both the overwhelming possibilities of the human intellect and the overwhelming impossibilities faced by a profoundly challenged human mind. I’ve started and stopped this novel a half a dozen times in eleven years. I want to bring the original idea into the present millennium. To read RECONSTRUCTION from beginning to here, click on the label to the right and scroll three pages back until you get to the bottom.

“What?” CJ Hastings exclaimed, lunging forward.

Mr. Bates said, “Christopher, stop!”

The giant man lifted his arm, palm out and grabbed CJ’s head, holding it like an NBA star holds a basketball. CJ squirmed then froze as hard fingers dug into his skull. “You can calm down, young man. I’ll be happy to pass on Mai Li’s words.” He paused. “When you relax, son.”

CJ bit the inside of his cheek tasting blood then took a deep breath and stood up slowly. He lifted his head slowly until he met the tall man’s gaze and said, “I’m all right now.” The fingers opened up and he stepped back. “What did Mai say?”

The tall man took a deep breath and his face seemed to blank. When he spoke again, his voice was strange. “Mai Li Hastings has instructed me to say to you,” CJ’s eyes grew wide, amazed. The voice was eerily like Mai Li’s, an octave lower, but the cadence, the timbre and the inflection was the same. He said, “Hey idiot brother, this is your sister. Do NOT get all hyper, I still cannot stand you guys. I am glad I am free of Mom’s hovering, clinging attentions and away from your solicitous, pandering, simpering affections…” CJ’s face flushed scarlet, but the tall man didn’t seem to notice and Mr. Bates turned away, facing the wall of the tiny office. The tall man continued, “However, there are things I need from you both – not your love, but things. Tell Mom I need cash. Lots of it. And from you little brother, I need you to help me execute my plan to take over the world.” The tall man laughed maniacally, startling Mr. Bates to turn around. Mai Li’s voice added, “I will be in touch again. Count on it, idiot brother. Just make sure you keep an eye out for my little friend here. By the way, do not tell anyone else what was said. Otherwise he will have to kill both of you.”

The tall man paused then said in his original gravel voice, “That’s it, Kid. You’ll see me around again soon, I think.”

CJ tried to grab him, but latching on to the massive forearm was like grabbing a tree trunk. The tall man looked down at him and said, “I don’t think you want to keep on doing that.” CJ let go as if he’d been burned. The tall man opened the office door and walked out, cutting through the crowd that had gathered outside the door. The crowd parted like water before an aircraft carrier. CJ and Mr. Bates peeked out around the corner to see him disappear through a far door.

The crowd watched the tall man as the door closed behind him then swung around as one group.

Job pushed his way to CJ, grabbed him by the shoulders and shouted, “We have to get you to the classroom! It’s time for the second part of the competition!”

“What?” CJ and Mr. Bates said. “We were only in there a few minutes!”

Job frowned and stepped back. “A few minutes? You guys have been in there almost two hours.”

CJ looked at Mr. Bates, who looked at CJ and then both looked at Job. CJ said, “Are you crazy? We went in there, the tall man…” he paused. What if she’d been serious? What if the tall man was also a hit man? The Tall Man – CJ suddenly thought of him with capital letters – was scary. Strong. Who knew what power Mai Li had over him, because she obviously had something over him? He was suddenly scary.

So why did he feel more afraid for Mai Li than he did for himself and his mom?

image: http://us.123rf.com/400wm/400/400/vlue/vlue1001/vlue100100003/6154173-man-with-black-and-white-spirals-in-his-aviator-glasses-being-hypnotized.jpg

February 22, 2011

Ideas On Tuesdays 1: ReVisiting Fermi's Paradox...

This is going to be a regular feature on POSSIBLY IRRITATING ESSAYS. Rather than irritating you though, I'd like to both challenge and lend a helping hand. I generate more speculative story ideas than I can ever use. My family rolls its collective eyes when I say, "Hang on a second! I just have to write down this idea..." I'll include the initial inspiration (quote, website, podcast, etc) and then a thought or two that came to mind. These will simply be seeds -- plant, nurture, fertilize, chemically treat, irradiate, test or stress them as you see fit. I only ask if you let me know if anything comes of them -- and that you can post in the comment section.

My wife ran across this on msn.com:

The comment at the end paraphrases Fermi's Paradox: "the apparent contradiction between high estimates of the probability of the existence of extraterrestrial civilizations and the lack of evidence for, or contact with, such civilizations."

Idea: What if every world with a technological, pre-atomic civilization is provided with a gate linking them to other worlds with other intelligences -- but the instant an atomic explosion occurs, the gate closes forever?

February 20, 2011

Slice of PIE: Who Put the “Psi” in Science Fiction?

Though not original research (bibliography below), I find it highly suspect that the first science fiction novel featuring future beings with psionic powers was Edward Bulwer-Lytton's The Coming Race (1871).

Was Bulwer-Lytton a major player in the exploration of the mind that began at the end of the 19th Century and continues today with MRI and CAT scans revealing ever more information about the brain and the mind that resides in it?

Did Bulwer-Lytton play an important role in the foundation of the “Institute of Psychical Research” and the invention of words like telepathy, telekinesis, clairvoyance, teleportation and precognition – words that pepper science fiction novels from the 1930s to the early decades of the 21st Century?

Neither. What Bulwer-Lytton is best remembered for is crafting the most awful first sentence ever penned:

"It was a dark and stormy night; the rain fell in torrents--except at occasional intervals, when it was checked by a violent gust of wind which swept up the streets (for it is in London that our scene lies), rattling along the housetops, and fiercely agitating the scanty flame of the lamps that struggled against the darkness."

--Edward George Bulwer-Lytton, Paul Clifford (1830)

After reading that sentence, I need to add that there’s a contest held in his “honor” every year that prints the winner (loser?) online and in an anthology. You’ll find the link below.

Nevertheless, what began with Bulwer-Lytton's novel has continued to this day. “Psi” powered humans and aliens have become a staple of SF perpetrated by the biggest names in the industry: Frank Herbert, David Brin, Anne McCaffrey, Julie Czerneda, Catherine Asaro, Peter Hamilton, Larry Niven, Vernor Vinge, Sarah Zettel/C.L. Anderson, Robert A. Heinlein, John Barnes, H. Beam Piper, David R. Palmer – and anyone who has written novels in the STAR TREK, STAR WARS, or BABYLON 5 universes. I’ve enjoyed books by all of these people and I wouldn’t trade their books out of my library for anything.



I wonder how such highly intelligent people would explain extrapolating a future development from nothing but blind speculation. Most of them are careful at creating futuristic devices that have their basis SOMEWHERE in “hard science” be it physics, chemistry, astronomy or biology. Some of them have advanced degrees in these sciences. In fact, some are downright OCD about the correctness of the science in their writing. Yet there isn’t a shred of evidence that human psychic powers exist and years of tests and experiments have yet to produce repeatable results that can be performed by anyone, anywhere who has the right equipment, but "psi" powers are ubiquitous and unquestioned.

Speculative fiction writers accept that when it comes to “psi”, it’s just a matter of evolution and genetic engineering. (“Psi” is short for “psionics”: “John W. Campbell proposed the term "psionics", from psi (psyche) + electronics (machine), which implied that the paranormal powers of the mind could be made to work reliably.”)

What is even stranger – though I would confess that it’s even sadder – is that many of these same writers have removed God, Jesus, the Holy Spirit and the redeeming power of the Son of God from their belief systems. The same belief system has mostly disappeared from science fiction as well. But “psi” is OK…

I contend that we as Christians carry much of the blame on our own shoulders for this replacement of God with psionic powers. We will have to answer for that when we stand face-to-face with Jesus on our Homecoming day.

So I have a proposal. It’s aimed at those of you who are Nicene Creed Christians and science fiction (and fantasy) fans and/or writers. This is a proposal to create a community of such people who, like John Campbell and Isaac Asimov’s Futurists, promote the future. But we will promote a future in space that not only includes aliens, starships, biotechnology and genetic engineering, our future will include faith in Christ as Lord and Savior. This Christian futurist society – I rather like the synthetic term Eternityst – would take as their mission the same one Jesus laid on the Disciples in Matthew 28:19. We would do it through service, volunteering to work at local, national and international SF and F and speculative fiction events. Once there, we would watch for opportunities to share our Nicene faith in Christ. Those so gifted would also write for publication and do the same thing in their writing and as members of societies and organizations that promote excellence in speculative fiction: draw Outsiders into serious conversation about God, Jesus, the Holy Spirit, salvation and discipleship.

Let me know if you’d like to join me. There’s nothing formal yet, but I don’t plan on leaving this on paper (or in the blogosphere). I’ve got plans and I’d like to see if there’s anyone out there interested in joining me. You have my blogsite – let me know what you think.

A Bibliography

Pre-Golden Age telepaths:


Article questioning the scientific claims of ESP or “psionics” and this: “In the late 19th century, scholars and scientists in Europe and America turned their collective attention not only to the mind, but to the paranormal. In 1882, the term "telepathy" was coined by a founder of the Society for Psychical Research; a boom in occult, proto-SF, and SF romances featuring various kinds of extra-sensory perceptions followed. Since 1892, as near as I can make out, at least one telepathy-related SF novel has been published every single year. (With one exception: 1910.)” – from an article by Joshua Glenn, io9, April 15, 2009


Psionics: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Psionics

The Bulwer-Lytton Contest: http://www.bulwer-lytton.com/

image: http://www.taranfx.com/wp-content/uploads/mind-reader-phone.jpg

February 19, 2011

MARTIAN HOLIDAY 14: DaneelAH Out of Malacandra

On a well-settled Mars, the five major city Council regimes struggle to meld into a stable, working government. Embracing an official United Faith in Humanity, the Councils are teetering on the verge of pogrom directed against Christians, Molesters , Jews, Rapists, Buddhists, Murderers, Muslims, Thieves, Hindu, Embezzlers and Artificial Humans – anyone who threatens the official Faith and the consolidating power of the Councils. It makes good sense, right – get rid of religion and Human divisiveness on a societal level will disappear? An instrument of such a pogrom might just be a Roman holiday...To see the rest of the chapters, go to SCIENCE FICTION: Martian Holiday on the right and scroll to the bottom for the first story.
A speaker on the roof squealed with feedback then a voice boomed from it, “Artificial Humans Daneel, Az, Mish and Han please board this ship under orders from Malacondran Mayor Angaleese Turin, your owner.”
The Marsbug sitting before them didn’t move or speak. Neither did they. Finally, DaneelAH asked, “Where are we going?”
The ‘bug boomed, “Outpost Cydonia.”
“We’re going to the Face On Mars?” MishAH exclaimed.
“The Face On Mars?” DaneelAH exclaimed.
A soft voice hissed from inside, “The Face On Mars…”
AzAH scowled and said, “Outpost Cydonia isn’t at the Face. It’s a couple hundred klicks south, nearer the equator.”
The ‘bug said, “Get in, property of Malacandran Mayor Angaleese Turin! I am programmed to operate within a limited time frame and am authorized to stun you and alert authorities that you have been resisting a direct command.”
DaneelAH bit his upper lip then stepped into the ‘bug. “We don’t have anything to lose – and nothing to gain if the thing has to stun us. The Mayor might decide to get rid…”
HanAH pushed past him, bending over to slide inside and snorting. “Like that would happen. We’re valuable property.”
MishAH pushed his backside as she followed him into the ‘bug, “Don’t let it go to your head, buddy.”
“It’s not…” When all four of them were inside, the door slid shut and the ‘bug started rolling, making for the exit airlock on the other side of Malacandra.
They’d reached Barsoom Avenue and their ‘bug had neatly inserted itself into the traffic flow of robot freight carriers crossing the thirty kilometer wide pressure dome. The city sat in a crater, the walls of Martian stone acting as the base for the massive construct. The glass and steel allow was supported by girders but also a pressure force screen as well augmented by antigravity units that constantly adjusted the distribution of weight. Repellor units worked to keep dust from settling on the glass, but still needed the help of regular, physical cleaning to keep the dome transparent.
The exit lock was a few hundred meters ahead of them when the ‘bug seemed to pause. The lights flickered and a shudder ran from the forward end to the propulsion unit.
Another voice said, “My name is Paolo and I am a bondservant – a slave – of Christ Jesus, set apart for the gospel of God, whose son was prophesied by the Bible and declared God with power by the resurrection from the dead…”
HanAH snorted, “Lunatic.”
MishAH shook her head, “More properly, ‘marsatic’.”
AzAH hissed them quiet, adding, “Lunatic or ‘marsatic’ or not, this man compromised Malacondran security and somehow put this message in here.”
The voice continued, “I know that you are also bondservants of Mayor Turin…”
AzAH, “And he knew that we were the intended pick up of this particular Marsbug.”
The others fell silent as the voice continued, “…and like all artificial humans, have suffered under persecution by the City Councils of Malacandra, Robinson City, Burroughs, Bradbury and Opportunity….”
“No poop, Poirot,” intoned MishAH.
Paolo continued, “I’ve programmed this ‘bug from under Hellas Planitia where I am joining,” the voice paused.
AzAH said, “His tonal inflection suggests he’s being held against his will.”
DaneelAH pursed his lips and added, “Which also suggests he knows that you’re a translator and would notice tonal inflections and could interpret them.”
HanAH used an expletive usually reserved for his security associates – artificial humans rarely had friends. DaneelAH nodded. Paolo was saying, “…Free Martian Fellowship. Their interpretation of events leading to the formation of the Face on Mars is fascinating and creative, but leaves me with questions. I know the Mayor has planned to download a forensic xenoarchaeologist database into Daneel,” all four of the artificial humans looked up at the speaker as the stranger left off the appellation denoting their status as material possessions. “I have information that might contribute to the Mayor’s interest in the Face. This ‘bug has been programmed to take you to where I am. You may also override the programming, in which case it will be deleted and become unrecoverable. You have five minutes to decide whether you will allow the programming to continue or not. If you wish to follow up on my offer, simply say, ‘Compliance’. Thank you for your time.”
DaneelAH glanced at his friends and after an instant of silence, sat up straight and said, “Compliance.”

February 13, 2011

POSSIBLY IRRITATING ESSAY: SCIENCE Doesn't Announce the Death of Death!

A few months ago, astrophysicist and certified genius, Stephen Hawking announced: “science makes God unnecessary.” (http://abcnews.go.com/GMA/stephen-hawking-science-makes-god-unnecessary/story?id=11571150)

Several years ago, my son was training to be a paramedic. The stories he’d bring home while often horrific, were sometimes amazing.

People who would have died fifty years ago were not only living, but also being brought back from the verge of death. Twenty-first Century medical science has got the “resurrection” bit down. It’s just a matter of time, technology and technique and we’ll be able to snatch just about anyone from the jaws of oblivion.

The scientific creation of life in the laboratory as well, is pretty much a “done deal”. While researchers haven’t actually made monkeys from Formula 409, complex theories smooshing together other, slightly less complex theories have emerged that satisfactorily explain the origin of life on Earth to most of the scientific community (by that, writers usually mean “Americans” or more specifically, “Americans who don’t believe kooky creation myths”). Abiogenesis, followed by biopoeisis have created statements like the following:

“The first organisms were self-replicating iron-rich clays which fixed carbon dioxide into oxalic and other dicarboxylic acids. This system of replicating clays and their metabolic phenotype then evolved into the sulfide rich region of the hotspring acquiring the ability to fix nitrogen. Finally phosphate was incorporated into the evolving system which allowed the synthesis of nucleotides and phospholipids. If biosynthesis recapitulates biopoesis, then the synthesis of amino acids preceded the synthesis of the purine and pyrimidine bases. Furthermore the polymerization of the amino acid thioesters into polypeptides preceded the directed polymerization of amino acid esters by polynucleotides.” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Abiogenesis) (The weird thing here, is I actually understand what this means! I was originally a biology major in college and have kept up by reading as many articles as I can on a bewildering array of subjects).

So, we have resurrection and creation handled. The last thing the scientific community needs to do to claim godhood is make us live forever.

It’s stymied.


While science has extended our lives and the “current maximum lifespan for humans is in excess of 120 years”, it doesn’t even come close to immortality. Cryonics (I have a go at this whole crazy religion here: http://faithandsciencefiction.blogspot.com/2009/11/possibly-irritating-essays-dream-of.html) and other quack medical treatments like the $50 BILLION anti-aging industry have NOT brought us really significant extensions of life. I now look at cryonics as an attempt by some in the scientific community to change the generally accepted paradigm that “everything living dies”. They’ve tried to do an ad campaign to tell us that “eternal life is just around the corner!” But real people aren’t biting. The evidence seems clear: we may have creation and resurrection down, but eternal life is beyond human accomplishment and remains in the purview of God.

This is where science, scientists, science fiction writers and researchers get mad: they’ve taken Creation and nailed The Resurrection. They’re working on Feeding The Five Thousand With Five Loaves Of Bread And Two Fish and expect that that will be a problem soon yanked from the sole possession of religion. But they just can’t seem to join into a coherent front on what they call “life extension”, what others call “immortality” and what the Bible calls “eternal life”.

The aphorism, “The only sure thing is death and taxes” (gleaned from Daniel Defoe’s 1726 statement: “Things as certain as death and taxes can be more firmly believed.") continues to vex science, and I’m pretty sure that in the long run, it will be an accomplishment not even Stephen Hawking can make disappear by proclamation.

February 12, 2011

QUANTUM PHYSICS AND CHRIST something to get you thinking

Despite what you’ve heard, humans may be more like light than like lug nuts.

For a few hundred years, scientists knew that matter was made out of solid particles called atoms. A bit after that first observation, atoms were broken down into fundamental particles called protons, neutrons and electrons.

Then came quantum physics and the wave-particle duality of light. Quarks followed and then an entire suite of elementary particles. Suddenly the universe had more to do with how those particles were grouped than where those particles stayed. It had more to do with their relationships to each other than with being locked into certain places like the lug nuts holding a tire on a car.

The particles had bizarre names: up, down, charm, photon, pi-meson. Humans discovered as well that light was not only a particle called a photon, but an untouchable wave. This is the dual nature of light – touchable and untouchable, yet one thing.

Humans are built the same way. Touchable matter and untouchable spirit.

Light isn’t light without solid photons and invisible waves.

Humans aren’t human without solid bodies and invisible spirits.

Light exists in relationship.

Humans exist in relationship.

Some of us have trouble maintaining a good relationship with our physical bodies. Even though we know we should exercise, eat right, sleep well and relax, we don’t. We become couch potatoes, eat GIANT sized fast food, gulp caffeinated drinks to stay awake and stress over the future.

Maintaining a good relationship with our spirit is also important.

God, who said, “Let there be light!” wants to have a relationship with us but leaves it up to us.

We can choose to live on fries and caffeine. We can choose to live on nothingness or the golden rule.

God would rather have a light relationship with us.

God sent Jesus to earth to create a dual nature relationship with us. It is what we were made for. Like the dual nature of light, we have a dual nature of body and spirit.

Anyone can discover this dual nature and have a relationship with God. It has to be on God’s terms and not ours. God’s terms are Jesus Christ.

We can try being nice, having religion, or living responsibly; but none of these involve a relationship. We are supposed to be in relationship with God. There’s only one way to have that relationship, and that is through Jesus Christ.

Light has a dual nature through no choice of its own. It just is. You have a choice: allow God in Christ to be part of your dual nature or not.

Like light, you have a dual nature. Light is particle and wave. You are body and spirit. Like light, it took us a while to discover its dual nature. You have a chance to discover your dual nature now, through Christ.

The Bible puts it this way: “This is how much God loves the world: God gave the son, the ONLY son…that by believing in Him, anyone can have a whole and lasting life.”

Discover your dual nature, have a relationship with God’s Son. Be light, not a lug nut.

image: http://andotadao.org/pic/chlight7.JPG

February 6, 2011

WRITING ADVICE: Mike Duran #4 – “What Do You Really Need From a Critique Group?” Not HOPE FOR THE FLOWERS…

I have long taken my personal stand against being in critique groups.

They have never worked for me – except once, briefly. The people in that group, which I joined thirty years ago, left twenty-nine years ago and from whom I learned all kinds of important things, are in order: a secretary who writes book reviews for a bookstore catalogue; gone and doesn’t write any more; and has become an excellent teacher but doesn’t appear to write anything but essays and has little positive to say about being a professional writer.

Critique groups, at least as I understood them long ago, are supposed to teach you things you didn’t know and help you move forward with your writing.

Mike Duran quotes Flannery O’Connor in “The Nature and Aim of Fiction”: “I believe the [writing] teacher’s work is largely negative, that it is largely a matter of saying, ‘This doesn’t work because …’ or ‘This does work because …’ The because is very important. The teacher can help you understand the nature of your medium, and he can guide you in your reading. I don’t believe in classes where students criticize each other’s manuscripts. Such criticism is generally composed in equal parts of ignorance, flattery, and spite. It’s the blind leading the blind, and it can be dangerous.”

Three years ago, I found myself not going anywhere with my writing and I joined my first online critique group – which I found to be brimming with rank amateurs shepherded by two or three professionals. I switched groups after wading through yet another MS that was so indescribably bad that I wasn’t even sure where to start my critique. The second group was better – for a while. Then the original members all got multi-book contracts (mostly without any help from the group) and had no time to critique anything from anyone else. The people who frequent the site now are less experienced than me and consequently don't meet my needs as frequently as before.

I am in the process of dropping out of that group, but it is hard to let go.

Mike Duran adds: “Several years ago, the authors at Charis Connection were asked if they belonged to a writing group. Of the ten that responded, only a couple spoke favorably of critique groups. At the time, I was indignant. ‘Of course critique groups are a good thing!’ I protested. Now I’m not so sure.” Mike Duran began his original article by saying: “Not long ago, I was contacted by an unpublished author who was looking for a critique partner…I was flattered. Really. Nevertheless, I emailed this response: …My apologies, but I’ll have to pass on the offer.”

We come now to the crux of my observation: the people who can teach the most no longer have time (or take the time) to help those of us a few (or many) ladder rungs below them. There are exceptions to the rule – Orson Scott Card works hard to teach others as do guests of ODYSSEY and WRITERS OF THE FUTURE and CLARION SF&F WORKSHOP. But none of them does it for free and all of them are too expensive for a family man like me. I have professional publications. I do. I also have things I OBVIOUSLY need to learn that will take me to the next – and possibly final level.

But if I can’t afford the BIG bucks and if the people on the next level like Mike Duran can’t help me up, is it all, like…HOPE FOR THE FLOWERS (Trina Paulus, 1972) ?

image: http://walkinginpublic.files.wordpress.com/2009/07/hope3.jpg?w=500&h=322

February 3, 2011


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

The GOOD thing was that Mr. Bates was standing outside of the auditorium bragging to several other coaches.

The BAD thing was that Mr. Bates was standing outside the auditorium bragging to several other coaches.

“CJ, what’s wrong?” he exclaimed, stepping forward.

The lady teacher or coach began, “Is this,” she lifted CJ by the armpit, pulling little hairs and making him yelp. She glared down at him and he shut up, “Young man one of yours?” Mr. Bates nodded slowly. “He was shouting something like a punch line from a…”

“I wasn’t shouting,” shouted CJ.

Job, who had followed him out, said, “He wasn’t telling a joke!”

“He was confessing to the crime of murdering his sister!” announced the PI.

No one said a word, and everyone stared at the man in a black suit who was wearing sunglasses in a darkened theater.

Mr. Bates was the first to recover and say, “Excuse me?”

The PI lifted CJ by the armpit, pulling little hairs and making him yelp just as the teacher let go of him as if he’d burned her.

The PI cleared his throat just then in the deafening silence. A dozen students had gathered in the auditorium door and were watching them rather than the Math Bowl up on the stage between the teams who had fielded the most winners from the competition last year. He cleared his throat again and said, “I’ve been hired by CJ’s mother to…” he paused and CJ waited, wondering what the man was going to say. There was a very long pause. Several people filled in the silence with their own explanation.

Suddenly everyone started talking at once. Mr. Bates said, “Find out how CJ learned to read overnight?”

Job said, “Arrest him for the murder of his sister!” CJ managed to elbow his best friend without dislocating his shoulder. “What?” the other exclaimed when CJ glared at him.

“Pick him up because he’s a hooligan runaway?” said the lady teacher.

“He’s a terrorist!” someone said from the auditorium. The crowd was getting bigger. A couple of teachers in red vests marked with name badges and the word USHER stenciled on their backs stepped through the crowd and herded them back into the auditorium. Shutting the doors, an incredibly tall man who looked like Lurch from the Addams Family stepped back into the foyer with the group.

With a voice that sounded like grinding gravel, he said, “What seems to be the problem here?” The lady teacher lifted CJ up again as did the PI. Mr. Bates stepped forward and grabbed the back of his shirt and Job spread his arms wide like he was protecting CJ from an assassin. The big man said, “My name is Mr. Payne, and I think you and I need to talk, young man.” He stepped up to the group, towering over everyone and asked, “Who is this young man’s teacher supervisor?” Mr. Bates raised his hand a little bit. The big man nodded, “You’re coming with me.”

The rest of the group and gathered mob protested as he led Mr. Bates and CJ away. Mr. Payne turned, glaring until there was total silence and everyone crouched a little bit. Then he grabbed the shoulder of CJ’s shirt and led him and Mr. Bates across the cafeteria and into an office where he shut the door.

He gestured CJ to a chair and Mr. Bates to a wall and folded his arms over his chest until they were settled. Then he said softly, “I have a message from Mai Li…”

image: http://hookedonhouses.net/wp-content/uploads/2010/06/Lurch-Pugsley-Wednesday-publicity-still-243x300.jpg