April 30, 2014


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

Popular Fantasy Story/Series: Harry Potter, et al

Trope: none

Current Event: none

Zoe Raven Jefferson a Nobody of Nobody, tried focusing on the hovering obsidian sphere as meditations proceeded, finally and slowly calming her turbulent head games, when a cry went up from outside, “Syzhin devils!”

The assembly leaped to its feet as the land raid siren began its mournful wail, echoing even to the depths of the Kylslithe University; everyone rushing to defend the battlements against the scourge of the world. Andre Xavier Xavier, a Bryshwyn of Bryshwyn grabbed her hand, yanking her to then end of the bench before Fendwyri  Alyn Wader – whose family opposed Xavier’s in everything – could take her with him. Even so, she tore free of him and ran with the rest of the students, teachers, workers, villagers, and soldiers garrisoned there and rushed to the battlements.

Raven raced up the stairs, but started when Xavier grabber her arm again, this time yanking her from the ground. She screamed, “I just want to walk!” as a whirlwind lifted them up to the top.

“Just say, ‘thank you’ and let’s defend the school!” he shouted.

Raven shook her head, shoved him away and ran to one of the magnifiers. Looking through it, she could see the boiling cloud far out over the Chapatti Plains of massive syzhin devils. Birds the size of pigs with immense wings, they flew because of a bladder filled with hydrogen ballooned over their backs and held them up. She scowled, shouting, “There’s so many!”

Heading for the garbage dump on in the foothills of the Jag Mountains east of them, Xavier shouted back, “Scavenging must be bad on the Plains.”

“Not as bad as it’s going to be now they they’re here!” said Fendwyri. “Those are UL-42s. Light, fast, but with semi-rigid wings.” The flight of ultralights armed with infrared lasers hummed overhead and out to meet the scavengers.

As the flight closed in, the cloud of devils suddenly expanded. “What are they doing?” Xavier said. The jovial good mood of those on the battlements poised to watch a routine battle where humans came out the winners shifted abruptly. Voices faded as the flight kept on straight as an arrow but the syzhin devils expanded around them.

The flight broke up as the ultralights attacked the targets enveloping them. Fendwyri said, “That the wayk are they doing?”

Someone on his far side elbowed him. He yelped as a girl’s voice said, “Watch the language! There are educated people on these battlements.”

Raven laughed but Xavier stared at the flight as they broke formation to soar and glide in every direction. He said, “No one’s ever flown against a flock of syzhin that’s not a standard head-on collision of forces. The pilots are targeting individual birds without considering the three dimen...”

Raven elbowed him as the ultralights sliced through the first syzhin, lighting the bladder and watching it explode. But while the pilot was shooting one, a second dropped down from above, shredding the wing’s metallic fabric. Spiraling wildly, the ultralight fell out of control along with four others down to slam into the earth and explode in a ball of flame as oxygen met fuel and hot laser parts.

The University battlements were silent now. The other pilots had stopped firing and were fleeing in complete disarray, just trying to escape the shrinking globe of sharp beaks and hooves as the aerial battle dissolved into chaos…

Names: Popular African American name, Australian Capital Territory, Common African American last name; Popular American name, Brazil

April 27, 2014

WRITING ADVICE: Julie Czerneda’s Writing Workshop! #12 – The End

 In 2005, whilst perusing the shelves at the Hennepin County Public Library, I stumbled across CHANGING VISION by Julie Czerneda (say it: chur-nay-dah), an author I'd never heard of, and was intrigued by the aliens on the cover by artist Luis Royo. It didn’t matter that the book was the second in a series, the cover entranced me and so I read. The book was spectacular, I read others, and fell entirely in love with another series of hers called SPECIES IMPERATIVE for its fascinating aliens and superior characterization. A teacher deeply at heart, Julie Czerneda shares ideas and methodology wherever she goes. On her website, http://www.czerneda.com/classroom/classroom.html she shares ideas for writers. I want to share what kind of impact her ideas have had on my own writing.  They are used with the author’s permission.

“...instructions for activities...the perfect way to practice talking about writing...Email, text, posts, chat are writing about writing. Talking to someone is another beast altogether...if you have a chance to do them with...writers...give them a try. Email me if you have any questions.”

For most of us, even for Julie Czerneda, writing is a lonely business. There are few (if any) people we can talk with about writing. Also, we get better at our own writing, we connect with writers who less willing to work with rank amateurs, not out of any sense of meanness, but because they are working hard at their own writing.

Our writing is better, we’ve garnered publications and we can’t learn anything more (yeah, I know, “Pride goes before the fall.” (BTW – “Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before stumbling,” is Proverb 16:18)) from people who are less experienced than we are. Even so, we seek out those who have major publications and either ask or pay for the opportunity of working with them.

I have never been to a real writer’s workshop. I have been running them for almost ten years. How can I get away with that? I’ve READ about the workshops – the premier workshop in the world of fantasy and science fiction is the Clarion Writer’s Workshop (http://clarion.ucsd.edu/) [$4957 includes tuition, room and board for six weeks in California]. In addition there are, Uncle Orson’s Writing Class and Literary Boot Camp (http://www.hatrack.com/misc/bootcamp2014/) [$725 + hotel room and meals for one week in South Carolina];  Alpha Science Fiction/Fantasy/Horror Workshop for Young Writers (http://alpha.spellcaster.org/) [$1100 includes tuition, room and board for 10 days in Pittsburgh]; Odyssey Writing Workshop (http://www.sff.net/odyssey/workshop.html) [$3377 (shared room) or $4177 (private room) in New Hampshire]…there are others too numerous to list here that feature lectures, group critiques, etc. for shrinking costs based on the reputation of the leader and guests. My own Serious Writers Workshop costs $200 for one week, 8 am – 4 pm and you have to get there yourself and bring your own lunch or, put it in the same frame as above: Serious Writers Workshop (http://www.district287.org/clientuploads/WSSS/WSSS36_2014/Master_WSSS_2014_JBGFINAL_4_7_14.pdf)[$200 tuition for one week in Minnesota]. You can see my own list of publications to the right.

The exercise above was to demonstrate that if/when you want professional guidance, you will have to pay for it. In lieu of paying, you have to reach a high enough level of proficiency on your own that your work is good enough to garner editorial commentary when they reject your work. This is called “asking for a rewrite”. This doesn’t happen very often, but when it does then you are getting professional editing advice for “free”. Take it and run with it!

Last of all, you can talk about writing all you want, but if your goal is to be published, then you have to do more than talk. In fact, a rule I “lived by” for a long time says, “Never talk about your story before you write it.”

Other people write by variations on that theme. John Barnes, a favorite SF writing of mine says, “My friends talk me out of bad ideas all the time; they would also talk me out of good ideas. So I only talk about bad ideas that seem compelling to me.”

“Picture Book author Rebecca Johnson - I saw her at a convention - recommends telling the whole plot to people out loud before writing. She says it makes them more honest (because they know you haven't just spent 300 hours making every word perfect), which is what you want. Especially at the point BEFORE you dive in, when YOU are more honest with yourself about major plot holes. But I wouldn't recommend it for your first book.” – Louise Curtis

Ah – so I should mention another way to learn how to write better is to join a GOOD writer’s blog. Nathan Bransford runs a great one here: http://blog.nathanbransford.com/2011/03/how-much-do-you-share-about-your-idea.html

Lynn Veihl runs a good one, too: http://pbackwriter.blogspot.com/, and Kristine Kathryn Rusch does lots of writing and talking about writing on her site: http://kriswrites.com/.

Again, the upshot of all of this is that if you want to get to be a better writer, you have to write. If you’re writing, you can pay large amounts of cash to work with famous writers and editors; you can pay smaller amounts of money to work with less famous writers. If you’re writing, you can submit your work and if it’s good enough, you’ll get feedback from the people who will pay YOU money to publish your work.

I followed the last route and so here I am.

This is the last time that I’m going to use writing advice from others. From now on, I’ll be offering up what I’ve learned since I started writing in 1970 – when I was thirteen. My twitter feeds will change accordingly (though I’ve been interjecting my own writing advice for some time.)

So – if you’ve been following me because I’ve been offering up the advice of famous writers,
then you can stop now. Here on out, I’ll only have myself to blame!
Image: http://2.bp.blogspot.com/-b1aDCeTMCyA/T8vpYrnbLyI/

April 24, 2014

MARTIAN HOLIDAY 54: DaneelAH At Station Vogel

On a well-settled Mars, the five major city Council regimes struggle to meld into a stable, working government. Embracing an official Unified 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.

Verumi Mawort,” said the Dalai Lama of Mars.

“‘True Mars’?” said DaneelAH.

“In the book, there are copies of rubbings made of incomprehensible etchings found on Earth. They’re typically ascribed to some sort of dead Icelandic dialect – because they were first discovered in Iceland. But they aren’t related to any Icelandic language. They aren’t related to any language known on Earth.”

“What do you mean?”

“While Earth was for all the history of Humanity, the only world we knew, we are here now,” the Dalai Lama said. “Various groups have discovered markings etched in stone on various surfaces on Mars – as well as on Titan and Republicano Moon. Those may be similar to these. But no one has investigated this possibility yet.”

“Why?” asked AzAH. As a biological translator, the challenge of language was the only thing that made her heart race. It was as irresistible as food to a starving man.

“Because the Five Councils have forbidden it.”

“Why would they do that?” AzAH asked.

The Dalai Lama of Mars shrugged, “I may be a holy man, but I am just a man. My has always and only been to bring Holy Writ to Mars. I’ve done that in any way I can.”

HanAH scowled then said, “I’ve never heard of you, and I’m intimately acquainted with the criminal elements of Mars. I work for Mayor Turin of Malacandra...”

The elderly man smiled, “I know. You’ve never heard of me because my mission has always been a quiet one. I am bringing Humanity its spiritual diversity. I am not fighting a war nor am I inciting revolution.”

“You may say that, but Martian law – in this case uniformly across the Five Councils – is clear on the fact that your activity is seditious.”
“I am not inciting anything. If you insist, I’m restoring Humanity’s spiritual documents to a people long separated from them.”

HanAH snorted. DaneelAH held up his hand and said, “You don’t need to harass the man.” To the Dalai Lama, he said, “HanAH is a Christian by choice as well, though I supposed I’d have to concede that he’s a skeptical Christian.” The other artificial human nodded firmly. “He’s also a full-spectrum detective and investigator. He heads up one of the most complex intelligence operations on the planet.”

The Dalai Lama raised his eyebrows and said, “Then my mission to remain invisible has been successful beyond my wildest dreams.”

AzAH and MishAH burst out laughing. HanAH’s face flushed indigo. DaneelAH sniffed and said, “What do you want me to do with all of these writings? I work for Mayor Turin – and I’m vatmate to one of the most powerful enforcers on this planet.”

The Dalai Lama nodded. “Then yours is the most difficult of jobs. These Holy Books will come back to Mars someday. The non-Human etchings will also be investigated one day. I feel deeply that they are related. There may be other events in motion right now that are tied to the etchings as well as the Holy Books of Humanity. I can’t say with certainty, but I feel that by handing them over to you,” he gestured widely to all four, “my part in this is nearly over.” He looked down, “I am an old man. I have seen many things. I have grieved many events both on Earth and here. Things are about to change and for whatever reason, the four of you have become a crux.” He smiled, “A cross if you will.”

DaneelAH shook his head. “You can’t be serious.”

“Why not? You are young. You are excited. You are also skilled in areas I cannot even describe.” The Dalai Lama lifted up a hand in benediction and said, “It’s time for you to go.” He turned away from them and headed back into his quarters.

DaneelAH said, “Now what?”

HanAH said, “You’re the one with the box of religion porn. Should I arrest you now or do you want to get going?”

April 23, 2014


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

SF & F & H Trope: “The Space Whale Aesop suggests a real, viable course of action ("don't perform nuclear tests") by presenting fantastic consequences ("radiation from the tests will awaken a giant monster that destroys Tokyo") instead of a more realistic but not quite as dramatic example ("it can burn whole buildings if someone is careless"). Overlaps with Gaia's Vengeance if the intended message is an environmental one, which it often is.”

Current Event: Earth Day

Paraskeui Russo pursed her lips and said, “Everyone’s positive this is a safe test?” She wasn’t one of the science staff overseeing the test of a fast reentry vehicle. In fact, she wasn’t even out of high school yet, but after she won second place in a contest that was supposed to provide a near-instantaneous evacuation of Space Station Courage.

Mychajlo Dąbrowski shook his head and said, “They wouldn’t be doing it if it wasn’t safe.” It was his project they were testing. His was the First Place Winner. Not that this was exactly what he’d proposed. His idea had been to keep bunch reentry pods made of waste-metal, melted and inflated with pressurized waste CO2. The rapid expansion of the gas would have cooled it, cooling the bubble. Cutting a doorway, outfitting it a rebreathing mechanism, then coating all of them with melt from the asteroid smelter orbiting a bit higher that SS
Courage. They could be tethered anywhere, everywhere.

Para shook her head, “Lots of scientists thought fission was a safe idea.”

Mych grunted. The contest was supposed be an innovative solution that would prevent an incident like the Sindikat Rossiyskikh Soyuznikov Space Station Muzhestvo – which had been badly holed and there hadn’t been enough life pods to save more than a hundred of the five hundred people who lived there. “No argument from me.”

Para looked at him, surprised. “You agree with me?”

Mych shook his head and hissed. “They’re launching.”

She scowled, but turned her full attention to the viewscreens. Instead of waste-metal bubbles, the Combined Forces part of the station had taken Mych’s idea and left out the rebreathers – those could be snatched while evacuating – and replaced them with variable explosives. Now called Situational Design ReEntry Shrapnel – SiDeReES or Sidereez – the things were being live tested today.

The first cluster of what looked like a large bunch of silver grapes was drifting out of orbit, headed down to Earth. They disappeared from sight. The window shivered and a sensor image replaced it. The capsules had started to glow red. Even as they did, the alarms in the space station suddenly began to shrill and wall panels began to glow red, fade, then glow red again. Station Command came over the public address, saying, “All crew please report to emergency stations. All others report to your emergency gathering points. This is not a drill.” The voice went on to repeat. Para looked at Mych and said, “What do you think’s happening?”

Mych’s eyes bugged wide. She turned to look at the screen. He said, “The planet – something’s happening.”

First a hole appeared to open abruptly in the surface of the Pacific Ocean. Then it widened into a gap, for all the world like a mouth opening. Where the nose would have been on a face, were the Hawaiian Islands. They were fiery pustules in the ocean that spread to engulf the entire chain, spewing lava into the water that boiled into steam. The Sidereez fell toward the mouth. For whatever reason, water was no longer pouring into the mouth-like crevasse. Simultaneously, it appeared that volcanoes had erupted in northern Mexico and on the Russian Syndicated Federation’s side of the Bering Strait.

Para blinked and whispered, “It looks like a face...” Space Station Courage shivered.

The voice said, “All personnel report to evacuation pods immediately. All personnel report…”

That voice cut off and another took its place, low, resonant, but definitely female. It was just definitely not Human and spoke words that neither teen had ever heard before. Mych said, “She’s speaking Russian.”

“Not Russian, Greek,” Para said. They looked at each other, then grabbed hands and ran to an evac pod, a few dozen meters from where they’d been watching. The station shivered, loud groans echoing down hallways whose pressure doors could no longer shut because the frames were no longer true.

The voice of the planet sounded, no matter what language they heard, like an immense Humpback Whale singing as it said, “Enough is enough...”

Names: Greece, Italy; Ukraine, Poland

April 20, 2014


Science fiction and fantasy has created powerful images in our own culture and created images that rebound in other cultures around the world as well. I am no cultural impact expert, but a few of these images that might have made a deeper than passing impression follow:
Speculative fiction is all about creating images in the minds of its readers. Few people who have read Frank Herbert’s DUNE books can immediately put the image of the sandworms out of their mind. Few who read J. R. R. Tolkien’s LORD OF THE RINGS can get the image of short, hairy-footed hobbits out of their minds quickly.

I once heard it proclaimed: "Science fiction is the literature of ideas. Alone among our present genres it can show us a world which does not exist, has not existed, but which could come into being. It can show us alternatives, many of which might be opposite to our presuppositions. It can mirror our thoughts, fears, and hopes about the future in terms of literary experience." (Pamela Sargent, More Women of Wonder: Science Fiction Novelettes By Women, Vintage Paperbacks, 1976)I also believe that Christianity is all about our efforts to create powerful images in the minds of people who have no interest in accepting Jesus Christ as their personal Lord and Savior. For example, the crèche, or the Nativity of Jesus is a powerful image that appears at Christmas.
The secular world has done a good job at overwhelming the image of the birth of our Savior with a jolly character who now has little to do with an obscure, 2nd Century priest following the precepts of his Lord and Savior. “Ho, ho, ho, and all that…”
It has had a much, much harder time overwhelming the Crucifixion and Resurrection of Christ with cute, innocuous images like one above…
https://christophercrandolph.files.wordpress.com/2012/04/passion_of_the_christ.jpg…because the Crucifixion is one of the most powerful images and because Jesus Christ died by one of the most excruciating methods of execution ever devised by a human government, it has been exceedingly hard for those who dislike Christianity to subdue the image.

“Crucifixion was used for slaves, pirates, and enemies of the state. Therefore, crucifixion was considered a most shameful and disgraceful way to die. Condemned Roman citizens were usually exempt from crucifixion…except for major crimes against the state, such as high treason…The goal of Roman crucifixion was not just to kill the criminal, but also to mutilate and dishonour the body of the condemned. In ancient tradition, an honourable death required burial; leaving a body on the cross, so as to mutilate it and prevent its burial, was a grave dishonour….crucifixion was also a means of exhibiting the criminal’s low social status. It was the most dishonourable death imaginable, originally reserved for slaves, hence still called "supplicium servile" by Seneca…” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Crucifixion).

The Crucifixion is an historical fact and while some dispute it, it is recorded several times in ancient history both secular and sacred. Others are more comfortable disputing the Resurrection of Jesus Christ and give various reasons why it didn’t or couldn’t happen.
Despite the disputation however, the image stays with us. It is powerful and widespread and has not been supplanted by secular attempts to abolish it. The Bible tells us both as a record and as prophecy, how Jesus the Christ was to die and rise again. It also tells us WHY: He died and rose again to restore our broken relationship with God. He was a sin offering on our behalf and then proved that death no longer had a hold on us! THIS is an image we cannot shake. THIS is an image that will last long after WAR OF THE WORLDS and HARRY POTTER fade away.

“He is risen! He is risen, indeed!”