Magazines & Anthologies
Rampant Loon Media LLC
Our Beloved Founder and Editor-in-Chief

Follow us on Facebook!


Read them free on Kindle Unlimited!





Blog Archive

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

A Changing of the Guard

For entirely understandable reasons, ~brb isn't going to be working on the Friday Challenge site in the foreseeable future. At his request, I have agreed to take over running the site for him if/until he wishes to return. What does that mean for right now?

First, the weekly Friday Challenge will continue as before, with the exception that I'll be running it. I don't have ~brb's credentials, but I have noticed that his opinions and mine have been in sync far more often than not. That said, I will lean on the critiques and votes from all of you more heavily than he did. Also, I don't want to operate it in a vacuum. The Friday Challenge is the reason most of us came to this site in the first place and I don't want this changing of the guard to end up driving all of you away. I will be open to suggestions for challenge topics, open to anyone with a good idea stepping forward and running the challenge any given week and open to any ideas you believe will help us maintain the spirit of the Friday Challenge.

Previously, the weekly schedule for this site went like this:

Monday - Ruminations of an Old Goat
Wednesday - Ultimate Geek Fu
Thursday - Challenge reminder
Friday - Challenge entries posted, voting encouraged and the new challenge topic presented
Saturday - Open Mic Saturday
Sunday - Challenge entries reviewed and the winner announced

I'd like to keep to that schedule as much as possible, but I'm also sure I'll have to drop something from the schedule if I'm the only guy writing for the site. Ultimate Geek Fu, for instance, is a column I believe could be written by a different writer each week and still be very interesting. With that in mind, I'm asking for volunteers to write Geek Fu entries. I'd also be quite willing to allow others to post in my place on Mondays or to add new columns on Tuesdays. Once again, just let me know if you're interested in contributing. If you want to volunteer for a series of columns or a set schedule, I'll be happy to consider it. If you want to volunteer to write one column one time, that's fine as well.

Returning to the Friday Challenge again, I've got something new that will be beneficial to anyone who may want to submit challenge entries for publication at some point. Last week, I ran across the site drop.io. The site is specifically designed to allow a group of people to post documents to a single repository that is password protected. Comments can be entered for the documents, as well. Most importantly, the documents are not posted out in the open on the web, meaning you should still be able to submit your stories for publication after entering them in the Friday Challenge. If you think this sounds interesting, take a look at the site and let me know what you think of it. We can start using it with very little advance preparation.

I want to keep this site alive and thriving and believe all of you want that, too. I'll need plenty of help, particularly for the first few weeks, to keep things running smoothly. My feelings won't be hurt if you have suggestions that run counter to the way I've been handling the site. I promise!

Thanks. Now get started with the suggestions!

Monday, September 28, 2009

Ruminations of an Old Goat

No real topic this week, just some random observations from a random access mind.

Have you noticed how upset staunch democrats are at the idea of the government being able to tap certain phones without a warrant or compel their local library to provide a list of the books someone has checked out but have no problem with the government having complete access to their full medical record? Conversely, have you noticed how upset staunch republicans are at the idea of the government having complete access to their full medical record but don't mind the same government being able to tap certain phones without a warrant or getting someone's library reading list? Yet both sides claim they want to keep the government from knowing too much of their private business.

While on the subject of democrats and republications, do you know what I see as the major difference between the two? Democrats tax and spend. Republicans borrow from China and spend.

Everyone feels overwhelmed by life at one time or another. What I want to know is why every time I start to feel that way, a friend or family member has to suffer to show me how wrong I am?

Along those lines, why is the human race's primary means of communication -- spoken and written language -- so inadequate at expressing the emotions we want most to communicate?

Have you ever wondered what it is that draws people to certain types of fiction? I know that I love science fiction as well as enjoying a good mystery or thriller. But I can't tell you why those genres appeal to me so much. I can also never understand why some people can't stand the music or movies that I love. What's wrong with those people, anyway?

How many parents are tired of reading about those studies that tell us how much happier we were before we had children than after? I've never managed to find out what basis of measurement was used by those performing the study, but I'd guess it comes down to being able to do less of the things you personally enjoy once children come along. If they measure happiness solely based on how often I could go out to dinner, go to the movies, watch whatever I wanted to watch on TV and still have plenty of time to read books, I guess I'd come out as less "happy," too. It seems like an extremely selfish way to measure happiness, if you ask me. Meanwhile, none of those things I used to do regularly compares to having my child give me a hug and tell me that he loves me. You simply cannot measure that happiness.

I think Neil Gaiman pulled off something this year that's never been done before. His novel The Graveyard Book captured both the Newberry Award for the outstanding children's book of the year and the Hugo Award for the outstanding science fiction/fantasy novel of the year. I don't even recall a year in which a young adult novel was nominated for the Hugo, let alone won it. Plus, this year, there was a second young adult books nominated. It was Little Brother by Cory Doctorow. Mentioning Little Brother, it won the Prometheus Award for best Libertarian science fiction this year. It seems this was a strong year for young adult science fiction and fantasy.

Is it just me, or has the movie landscape this year been pretty much a bust? Star Trek is the only movie I've seen so far that I felt was truly outstanding. I enjoyed Inkheart well enough but enjoyed the book far more. The Watchmen captured the spirit of the graphic novel well enough to meet my expectations, but I find myself uninterested in picking it up on DVD. We've got three months left in the movie season and all I can find to look forward to is Astro Boy. I loved the original Astro Boy cartoon, which was shown in the U.S. when I was a lad of six or seven. I just hope the new movie manages to capture the magic that made the original so special.

Over the weekend, I was one of the storytellers at a long-running (27th year!), local storytelling festival. As wonderful as it is to be a writer, it simply cannot compare to telling stories in person. From looks of wide-eyed amazement to the sound of children laughing to the gasps of horror from a ghost story, there is simply no better way to connect directly with your audience.

I think that's enough randomness from me for one week. Please feel free to share your random access thoughts in the comments. And next week I'll try to have a topic.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

And the winner is...

Last week, Bruce explained why he continues to run the Friday Challenge after all these years. While I haven't been associated with the Friday Challenge for nearly as long -- two years this December -- I've seen a lot of good writers come and go over that time, yet it never even occurs to me to stop taking part in the challenge. So why do I stick around?

It's fun to see what my imagination does with the ideas we get each week. Every story I've written for the challenge is a story I would not have written otherwise. Each of those stories is a personal discovery made possible by the Friday Challenge.

It's just as much fun to where each of the other entrants' imagination takes them. I am continually amazed at the diversity of stories that emerge from the challenge ideas.

But what I really love most about the challenge is the feedback I receive from all of you and from Bruce. Brief though they are, the critiques provide a lot of insight for me. I know I am a better writer now because of these critiques. Put simply, you guys are my writing group and I find your feedback invaluable.

Most importantly, I value the human connections I've made with each of you. I may never get the chance to meet any of you in person (though I'm hoping NASFIC will help with that), but I think of you all as friends. And now I get to pass judgement on you. How's that for friendship?

Miko - Everyone has been impressed with your first entry to the challenge. You write a compelling story with a weighty question, the answer to which you show us rather than tell us. That's where the true power of your story comes from. Show, don't tell, is a vital lesson all writers must learn. Obviously, you've already learned that lesson.

Henry - I'm not sure how many of you picked up on my Jeeves and Wooster reference, though at least two of you did. Topher got it and Arisia looked up Bertie. Seeing that Hugh Laurie played Bertie in the BBC series, she took an interesting path by viewing Bertie as a weathly version of House. Please, Arisia, read some of the Jeeves novels. Wooster and House are diametric opposites of each other. But I am pleased people picked up on my background and enjoyed my little piece of fluff.

Al - You gave us another weighty subject; what it means to be human. As Miko did, you also do a very good job of showing us how Luis changes and how his companions view of his changes as well. In end, without speech, we're wondering if there's anything of Luis left. Then you show us that there is; letting Luis's actions answer the question.

Arisia - Your story gets off to a great start, introducing a neat mystery that would be interesting to follow to its conclusion. Unfortunately, that would probably take a novel and we were constrained to 1000 words. I liked what was there a lot, but it's incomplete as is. Please consider finishing the story!

Topher - I'm tempted to copy/paste my comments for Arisia for your story, too. Depending upon what you have in mind, it's possible you could finish the story with another 1000 - 2000 words or this could be the setup for a novel. Once again, I really liked what was there but it's incomplete right now.

Waterboy - You wrote an entire short story just as the lead-in to a pun. The only thing more awesome than that would be to write an entire novel just as the lead-in to a pun! Even if I didn't manage to catch the pun the first time I read it (for which I hang my head in shame and abject humiliation), I did get it the second time. Once I caught the pun, your ending didn't feel abrupt after all. Oh, and you get the special Challenger Badge of Courage for using the comments to record the entire story.

After considering my opinions and the opinions of everyone who posted comments, I declare Miko the winner, with Al and Waterboy in a tie for runner-up. Alas, there is no prize for the runners-up. Miko, take a look behind Door #3 and follow the instructions to claim your prize!

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Open Mic Saturday

G'morning all, and welcome to Open Mic Saturday. This is the place to share your news and perhaps do a little bragging. If you're writing a novel: how much progress did you make this week? If you're writing short stories: did you finish anything or submit anything this week? If you've sold or published anything recently, when is it coming out and where can we find it? In short, as a writer, what kind of progress did you make this week?

Or what else is on your mind, that you feel like sharing with the group here?

Note: Bruce has been called away for a few days. He's asked me to handle things until he is able to get back to running things here.

Friday, September 25, 2009

The Friday Challenge - 9/25/09

Well, there's a relief. When I logged off last night I was afraid we were going to have to declare a winner by default, and those situations are always embarrassing, for both the winner and everyone else involved. When I was a very young tyke my Cub Scout softball team had our otherwise perfect record spoiled one year by winning a game by default, as the other team didn't even take us seriously enough to bother showing up. They went on to win the season, and on paper, we defeated that year's championship team, but I have never forgotten the humiliation of that win.

It turns out I need not have feared this time, though, as you folks came through in your usual magnificent form in the final stretch. As of the deadline, we have received the following entries.

Miko, "La Lata"
(Miko, I should point out, is new to The Friday Challenge this week, so welcome aboard, Miko! And the rest of you: you know the drill. Go easy on Miko. This time.)
Henry, "Lodging a Complaint"

Al, "Luis Came Back"

Arisia, "The Six-Million Centavos Man"

Topher, "The Message"

WaterBoy, untitled
(WaterBoy bravely attempted to put his entry in the form of a series of Comments. However, I remain unable to recover my ability to link to individual comments, so you're going to have to dig for his entries. Most of them are signed "Guest," as it seems JS-Kit doesn't like WaterBoy this week.)
As always, even if you haven't submitted an entry this week—even if you never submit an entry in any week—you're invited to read, comment on, and vote for your favorite. Don't be shy about leaving feedback on the authors' sites, either. Writers thrive on knowing that someone out there is actually reading their words. The winner will be announced on Sunday.

And now for this week's challenge.

"A Letter of Recommendation"
I've got this love|hate thing going with social networking. On the one hand, it enables me to stay in touch with lots of people I want to stay in touch with, but otherwise would never find the time to. On the other, it also enables me to be "found" by people who, to be honest, make me wish I could just take a blue pill and forget I ever met them.

The worst are almost always former co-workers who are working their social networks, because they're on the hunt for a new job, and some how-to book or employment counselor has just reminded them that they should be "networking." So suddenly out of the clear blue they drop in on you, presuming an amiable relationship and level of comradery that never really existed, and ask you to write them a letter of recommendation.

What do you do? Douse the bridge with gasoline, pack nitro around the main supports, torch that sucker good and write what you really think of them? Well, that might feel good, but in today's litigation climate those sorts of words also might be actionable, and besides, the job market being what it is, you might need their recommendation someday. But on the other hand, you don't want everyone who reads your recommendation and knows this person to think that you are a complete moron with no discernment, so that would seem to rule out just plain lying and praising this person to the high heavens with full voice.

Hence, this week's challenge: we're looking for a letter of recommendation containing not more than three paragraphs of finely tuned weasel-words that are not, on the surface, overtly insulting or actionable, and yet still communicate the idea that given a choice, you would not hire this person to shovel manure in a stable. Even if it was late July, and your last stable-hand quit a month ago, and the stable really stank.

It's not as easy as it looks. Believe me.

As always, we are playing by the loosely enforced Official Rules of the Friday Challenge and playing for whatever is behind Door #3. The deadline for this contest is midnight Central time, Thursday, 10/1/09.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Deadline Reminder

The deadline for the current Friday Challenge, "Inspiration" (a.k.a., "One Thousand Words"), is midnight tonight, Central time.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Ultimate Geek Fu

"Voyager Memories"

Ah, Star Trek: Voyager. It lasted seven seasons, aired 172 episodes, sold a sizable pile of spinoff merchandise, and still, in the final analysis, was there ever a TV series that cost so much, lasted so long, was watched by so many, and yet in the end was forgotten so quickly, leaving behind only a few very faint, tiny, and rapidly fading footprints to mark its passage through the zeitgeist? It was the flagship series of the UPN network. Does anyone even remember the UPN network, now?

Well, I for one think this is terribly unfair, and that it's long past time for Star Trek:Voyager to be recognized as the powerful, moving, deeply significant, and world-changing phenomenon it truly was. For after all, a recently released poll reveals that in November of 2008, a decisive 18% of the American electorate thought they were voting for, "that Vulcan guy on Voyager."

Let the arguments begin.

ULTIMAGE GEEK FU runs every Wednesday. Have a question that's just bugging the heck out of you about Star Wars, Star Trek, Stargate, Battlestar Gallactica, Farscape, Firefly, Fringe, Heroes, The Sarah Connor Chronicles, Smallville, The X-Files, X-Men, The Man From Atlantis, or pretty much any other SF-flavored media property? Send it to slushpile@thefridaychallenge.com with the subject line, "Geek Fu," and we'll stuff it in the queue.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009


Here's an interesting one: downrightnow.com, which provides a handy interweb-at-a-glance guide to the commonly used web services that are down right now. And upon taking a quick glance at it, why, gol

Ruminations of an Old Goat

One of the greatest Americans in history, certainly the greatest in the 20th century, died on September 12. I don't get a newspaper, so I can't say how the death was reported there. I do know that if you blinked at the wrong time, you missed the story as an online headline. I blinked. That's why this column didn't appear last week.

During a summer in which we were inundated with cover stories about Michael Jackson and Ted Kennedy, Farrah Fawcett and, now, Patrick Swayze, you'd think the media could find a little more time for someone who contributed far more to mankind than every actor and pop star who ever lived. But, of course, this man didn't do the Moonwalk or draft legislation. He wasn't a famous pin-up star or a movie star. In this media obsessed world, he made the mistake of merely feeding people. Despite many honors, including the Nobel Peace Prize (back when it meant something) in 1970, he remained virtually unknown in his own country.

We've got a well-read group here, so many of you may already know who I'm writing about. But if you mention the name Norman Borlaug to the American public in general, far more often than not you'll receive a blank stare in return. They'll be even more confused if you tell them Borlaug was one of the greatest Americans in history and, as far as I'm concerned, one of the greatest men to ever stride this planet.

I've already said Borlaug was known for feeding people. So what, right? Mother Theresa fed people, too. And she ministered to the sick and poor and homeless, as well. No offense to Mother Theresa, but she was piker compared to Borlaug. Yes, she fed and treated and housed thousands of the most wretched people in Indian society. Norman Borlaug fed most of the people in the third world.

Educated as an agronomist, Borlaug helped develop some of the principles of what was called Green Revolution agriculture. You can't sum up Green Revolution in a sentence or two. Suffice it to say that from the Civil War through the Dust Bowl years of the Great Depression, a typcial American farm produced 24 bushels of corn per acre. Due to the Green Revolution, a typical acre now produces 155 bushels of corn.

Having seen the power of these agricultural techniques, Borlaug realized they could literally mean the difference between life and death for the poorest people in the world. Starting in 1943 in Mexico, Borlaug began teaching poor farmers how to utilize Green Revolution techniques on their farms. From Mexico, Borlaug traveled to South America, India and Africa. Everywhere he went, crop yields rose dramatically and deaths from starvation plummeted.

In 1968, Paul Ehrlich rocketed to fame on the heels of his book The Population Bomb. In the book, Ehrlich claimed India, then suffering through a horrific famine, would never be able to feed its own population. Alas for Ehrlich, Borlaug and his assistants were already in India and Pakistan. Despite the India-Pakistani war that was raging at the time, despite having the fighting so close that, at times, the flash of artillery fire could be seen from their fields, Borlaug's team sowed the first fields of high-yield grain. By 1971, India was producing enough food to feed its population. Borlaug proved Ehrlich wrong in a mere three years, yet more people today will recognize Ehrlich's name than Borlaug's.

Finally, Borlaug turned his attention to Africa. There Borlaug ran into opposition to his ideas. Not from the people of Africa, mind you. No, Borlaug had run afoul of the environmentalists. Borlaug's techniques require lots of fertilizer and some pesticides, anathema to the modern, affluent environmentalists who were rising up in first world countries. While Borlaug lived and worked with the people he was trying to help, people reclining in air conditioned offices whose idea of worrying about food is limited to wondering which wine to serve with their meal were organizing against him.

Tractors? The people of Africa don't need tractors! Their lives are fuller and closer to nature without such modern machines!

Modern farming techniques? Why, they'll put more chemicals in the soil and water and lose their lovely, simple way of life!

Borlaug found such people insufferable, wishing they would have to live for just 30 days under the conditions he lived under for 50 years. Undoubtedly, were that to happen, the environmentalists would be begging for their first world comforts long before the 30 days were up. Equally undoubtedly, once they were back in their comfortable confines, most of them would go right back to doing everything in their power to block agricultural progress in third world countries.

Despite their protests, the environmentalists could not slow Borlaug down. But time did what they could not. Even the greatest of men eventually die. After 95 years, Norman Borlaug's time came to an end. One heart has stopped beating. But one billion hearts beat today because of this amazing, heroic, compassionate man.

Norman Borlaug, the man who fed the world.

Monday, September 21, 2009

An Outing is Not a Field Trip

by Bruce Bethke
Editor's Note: The usual Monday column, "Ruminations of an Old Goat," was inadvertently delayed when the author was caught up in a dinosaur stampede. "Ruminations" will appear on Tuesday this week and return to its normal time slot next week.

A few weeks back Torainfor was outed as Kersley Fitzgerald, and in all innocence she asked:
OK, I'm still really new at this. What is the deal with being "outed" and is it bad or good? Do famous-stinkin-authors go around, pretending not to be who they are so mere mortals will talk to them? 'Cus everybody and their aunt's cat says that marketing is as important to being an author as writing, so you should tie a streamer to aforementioned cat's tail and tell the world.
Not only that, you should then duct-tape sparklers and roman candles to the cat's butt, douse it in charcoal lighter, set it on fire, and turn it loose to run screaming, flaming, exploding, and waving your banner, through the center of Times Square, during rush hour.

Ooh, I'm gonna get hate mail for that crack.

To dispose of the first question with unseemly haste: oh no, as a famous author, or even as a semi-famous, near-famous, almost-famous, or formerly famous author, there is absolutely no problem in getting mere mortals to talk to you. The problem is getting 'em to shut up.

The issue of being "outed" is closely tied-in with another that keeps coming up: whether or not to use a pseudonym. I've always published under my own name. In hindsight, I wish I'd used a pseudonym—or preferably, about six. Part of it is simple branding. People have a tendency to read one piece by you and think they know everything about you, and it throws them when they read something else that defeats their expectations. If I'd been thinking, I'd have used one pseudonym for my funny contemporary computer-related sci-fi, another for my serious far-future military sci-fi, a third for my serious "literary" stuff, a fourth for my mysteries—yes, early in my career, I wrote and published a few straight-up mystery stories—a fifth for my non-fiction and political commentary...

The ones I really wish I'd used a pseudonym for were my biker stories.

This warrants explanation. When I was first starting out, one of the really wide-open magazine markets was the market for biker fiction. You could throw almost anything into a biker-market story, provided the story also depicted a loner male hero (or anti-hero) who rode a Harley-Davidson and was involved in at least one explicit sex scene. Horror, science fiction, military or paramilitary action-adventure, darkest black comedy... Anything, except a hero who rode a Japanese bike. And the market paid well, too; better than some of the first-rank SF magazines, although collecting payment was sometimes problematic.

So I wrote and sold a few stories into that market. In particular, I published in... oh, the name isn't important now. They've had a change of ownership and editorial board and have really cleaned up their act in the years since. (And sadly, quit publishing fiction.) But back in the day they really catered to the outlaw biker stereotype and ran a lot of semi- to fully raunchy "men's fiction," in-between the photos of customized bikes and the suitable-for-taping-on-your-cellblock-wall photos of naked women. In particular, each issue featured a multi-page photo spread of one particularly buxom women draped in variety of remarkably explicit poses over a particularly nice customized Harley-Davidson—and the centerfold was always the motorcycle without the woman.

I have not always been the nice, polite, patient, mild-mannered guy I work at pretending to be now. So I wrote some stories for this market, sold 'em, got paid, cashed the checks, and life went on. Or so I thought.

Flash forward a few years. Three companies, two kids, and a lot more "respectable" publications later, I was working in software development for a company whose VP-Sales & Marketing was a screaming, flaming, outlaw biker wannabe. (Think of that guy in the Village People, if you need a mental image.) It turned out he wasn't just one of your garden-variety yuppie Harley riders; on weekends he put on the black leather and became the kind of poser real bikers alternately laugh at and beat up in the parking lots of bars of seedy bars. But somehow—I can't remember the triggering event—the VP-S&M saw my name, recognized it, put two and two together and came up with something approximating four—quite a remarkable feat, actually, for a VP-Sales & Marketing—and then brought into the office an old biker magazine he'd been saving for years, because he liked it so much, and showed it around to everyone on executive row...

There have been times when I was more mortified, but not many.

That's the crux of the issue with "outing." When you write for publication, you are held responsible for everything you write, no matter how long ago you wrote it, no matter how cranky and peevish you were feeling that day, no matter how your thoughts may have changed or evolved since. Every throwaway quip; every lightning-rod opinion put into the mouth of a character; every out-of-context quote from what you thought was private correspondence; every misquote and paraphrase written by someone else writing about you. In the Internet age it's only gotten worse, as readers have unprecedented access to writers, nothing ever truly goes out of print and vanishes forever any more (except for the December 1999 issue of S!ren, which contains one of the few short stories of mine I would like to see again and don't have a copy of—a hard-disk crash ate the original file and I never got my contributor's copies), and writers mistakenly assume that using an online handle somehow confers everlasting anonymity. From this assumption comes the belief that anonymity gives them license to voice opinions they would never otherwise express out loud. And the truly damnable part of it is, you have no choice in it, as you have no idea beforehand which throwaway line will turn out to be an enormous lightning rod for some profoundly unhinged person. Even the most benign and amusing metaphorical image might set some screwball off.

Such as, say, that of a flaming cat, galloping across Times Square, with sparklers and roman candles duct-taped to its butt...

Sunday, September 20, 2009

And the winner is...

One of the reasons I continue to run the Friday Challenge is because I continue to learn from doing it. Most of the time the learning is pleasant or amusing. This time, what I mostly learned is that it was probably a mistake for me to have presented the "9/11/2001" challenge in the first place, because I don't yet have the emotional distance to deal with it.

I'm going to skip my usual pattern of critiquing the submissions entry-by-entry. I just can't manage that level of abstraction. Arisia, yours began in a very strong way, but then turned very strange. Al... I'm going to have to ask you to see me after class, young man. Rigel Kent and The Bandit, yours both were quite interesting in that they helped me to see the day and its aftermath through eyes very different from my own. The story that really hit me where I live, though, was Torainfor's entry, "A Day at the Beach." If I were running a literary magazine this is the one I'd publish, even as I'm uncertain whether it's even possible to communicate the feelings to someone who's never sweated out the possibility of deployment or the deployment of a loved one. After I read this one, I had to take a break and go get some fresh air.

That said, I'm going to pick Snowdog's entry as the winner this week, mostly because I feel I have to pick one. It's a good story, well told, and being perhaps a touch more accessible to the average reader than "A Day at the Beach." When it got to the part about the wall of names and photos in Penn Station, I choked.

I'm sorry, folks. It was a mistake for me to have run this challenge in the first place, as I wasn't emotionally prepared to judge the responses. I'll try to avoid doing this again.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Open Mic Saturday

G'morning all, and welcome to Open Mic Saturday. This is the place to share your news and perhaps do a little bragging. If you're writing a novel: how much progress did you make this week? If you're writing short stories: did you finish anything or submit anything this week? If you've sold or published anything recently, when is it coming out and where can we find it? In short, as a writer, what kind of progress did you make this week?

Or what else is on your mind, that you feel like sharing with the group here?

Friday, September 18, 2009

The Friday Challenge: 9/18/09

I'll admit that "9/11/2001" was not an easy challenge, nor was it meant to be. While we usually tend to the silly side here at The Friday Challenge, there are some memories still too fresh and topics far too serious to joke about.

As of the deadline, we have received the following entries:

Arisia, "Nine Eleven"

Snowdog, "History from the Edge - A 9/11 Remembrance"

Torainfor, "A Day at the Beach"

The Bandit, "That September Morn"

Al, "Portrait of the Author as a Young Conspiracy Whacko"

Rigel Kent, "9/11 Memories"

Passinthrough also posted a few paragraphs in the Comments, but I seem to have lost the ability to link to individual comments again.

As always, even if you haven't submitted an entry this week—even if you never submit an entry in any week—you're invited to read, comment on, and vote for your favorite. Don't be shy about leaving feedback on the authors' sites, either. Writers thrive on knowing that someone out there is actually reading their words. The winner will be announced on Sunday.

And now for this week's challenge.

I have a collection of web sites I visit on a regular basis whenever I need a laugh, or a recharge, or a simple-minded break. The mother of them all is icanhascheezburger.com, which is far more fun than actually owning a cat, and it's sister sites, ihasahotdog.com, which is the same idea but dog-oriented, engrishfunny.com, which is inexplicable and often just plain unintelligible, and of course, the legendary failblog.org. After that there's always that glorious testimony to the depths of human ingenuity, thereifixedit.com, (I believe their preferred term is "abomineering"), the second-greatest car-oriented site in the world after Jay Leno's Garage, thatwillbuffout.com

Look, Leno's site is utterly beautiful, but it's also a bandwidth hog and a colossal time-sink. For more explanation, go see his page on the Jaguar XK 120. And then try to remember to come back here.

—and finally the site that inspired this week's Friday Challenge, pictureisunrelated.com, an astonishing [But often not work-safe! ~brb] collection of photos to which the only possible response is often, "Whiskey Tango Foxtrot?"

For example, I recently came across this one:

They say a picture is worth a thousand words. Therefore, your limit this week is no more than 1,000 words. Use them to explain this picture.

As always, we are playing by the loosely enforced Official Rules of the Friday Challenge and playing for whatever is behind Door #3. The deadline for this contest is midnight Central time, Thursday, 9/24/09.

Me, I keep looking at this one and thinking it starts with something like, "After his humiliating dishonorable discharge from the Royal Army of Oz, Tik-Tok fell into a downward spiral and became a mercenary, hiring himself out to whoever would put up with his quart-a-day fusel oil habit..."

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Deadline Reminder

The deadline for the current Friday Challenge, "9/11/2001", is midnight tonight, Central time.

Revenge of the Angry Vegans

As I was standing in the kitchen making coffee this morning, this thing slithered out of the pantry and tried to attack me.

Fortunately I was able to corral it fairly quickly, and upon application of enhanced interrogation techniques (I threatened to parboil and peel it) it confessed to being a Vegan—from a planet near Vega, obviously—acting on direct orders from the Vegan Invasion Fleet Supreme Commander. Further, it admitted that the reason why VIF/SUPCOM ordered this attack on me personally was to avenge the insult of Vidad's failure to win last week's Friday Challenge.

Mr. MaGoodn, would you care to explain further?

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Ultimate Geek Fu

"The Button, And Whether You Will Push It"

Ah, it's a pleasure—sort of—to see that old arguments never die, they just get more ridiculous. Except now instead of it being The Beatles vs The Rolling Stones (or even the Beatles vs Elvis; yes, I remember that one), it's now The Beatles vs The World!

Which might not be an altogether bad idea for an animated film of the kaiju eiga variety, but that's a topic for another time. And come to think of it, the obvious prequel, The Beatles vs KISS!, is far more engaging, anyway. (Henry, we need to get started on the comic-book adaptation right now. Or do you think we should skip that and go straight to The Beatles vs GWAR?)

Me, I don't know that I have a dog in this fight. While I like most of the Beatles' songs well enough and have a fair amount of personal respect for the late George Harrison, the most recent CDs I've bought were The Clash: The Singles and the extended CD reissue of The Who, Live at Leeds, which no doubt says something interesting about me, although I'm not sure what. As far as I'm concerned the definitive words on the subject were penned by David Bowie, by way of Mott the Hoople:
"And my brother's back at home
with his Beatles and his Stones
you know I never got it off
on that revolution stuff."

Given more time to think about it and an inclination to be serious (which I most definitely lack), I might go off on at rant about how the Sixties and The Beatles and All That Crap were really all about the discovery, by the vast multinational corporations that in time evolved to become CBS and Time-Warner, that there were vast mountains of money to be made by packaging badly written and hastily produced slabs of incoherent adolescent rebellion and marketing them to the easily bored children of the bourgeoisie—I mean, Wild in the Streets, anybody? Or how about Thunderclap Newman?

But never mind that. This is Ultimate Geek Fu, and the object here is to pose a thought-provoking but not at all serious question. To do so today, I need a prop. Ah, this one will do:

No, it's not HAL's eyeball. This, my friends, is a Magic Button. You can only press it once, but when you do, the song you are thinking of at the moment you press it will be instantly, utterly, and irretrievably erased from existence for all of eternity, leaving you as the only person who ever knew it once existed.

What song will you pick, and how fast will you hit the button?

Let the arguments begin.

ULTIMAGE GEEK FU runs every Wednesday. Have a question that's just bugging the heck out of you about Star Wars, Star Trek, Stargate, Battlestar Gallactica, Farscape, Firefly, Fringe, Heroes, The Sarah Connor Chronicles, Smallville, The X-Files, X-Men, The Man From Atlantis, or pretty much any other SF-flavored media property? Send it to slushpile@thefridaychallenge.com with the subject line, "Geek Fu," and we'll stuff it in the queue.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

And the winner is...

...coming to you by secret transmission from an undisclosed location. In the early pre-dawn hours yesterday morning I was seized by the minions of Otogu and have been held incommunicado ever since. Moments ago I managed to slip away from my captors and find the unsecured data transmission device upon which I am tapping out this message, but I fear the respite is only temporary. It's a race against time to get this message coded up and sent before they find me and once again drag me back into the— the... No! It's too terrible, I cannot say it! But I must! Into the... The Conference Room!

Turning to last Friday's embarrassment of riches, then, Vidad scores early and big with a story I like to think of as, "Veggie Tales From The Crypt." This story evoked wonderful memories of what may have been the worst job I've ever had: the two days I spent de-tasseling corn for Jacques Seed Company. (For those of you who have never lived in farm country, corn plants are bisexual and wildly promiscuous, and what a de-tasseler does basically is get the corn to settle down and behave by castrating selected plants. No wonder the corn gets surly and maladjusted.) Anyway, I enjoyed the story greatly, for it put me in mind of that famous quote by some old guy, "Harvest them all and let God sort them out! Or maybe make them into a nice salad."

Torainfor, as must be obvious to all, wins the 10hp Shop-Vac Ultimate Suck-Up Award for her entry, and I don't know what more I can add to that except to say, where are the cookies? You promised cookies.

Arisia, just as obviously, wins the We'd Call It The Terrance Dicks Memorial But He's Still Alive Award for the best Dr. Who fanfic ever entered into a Friday Challenge. While we're slightly disappointed that your itinerary skipped Castrovalva, it was still a delightful little read.

Sorry. I'm hearing footsteps nearby. Must type faster. Must type faster...

Al, Nicky Weird's Summer Vacation is great stuff but needs to be longer. This feels like the beginning of a pretty cool YA book and I'd like to see more.

Henry, great stuff!. If I ever get out of here I'm going to make The Kid read it. Twice. Of course, since he'll be reading it, I'll still have to mow the #@($*&@#$ yard myself.

Topher, same comments as went to Al. Good beginning of a story but it feels like it needs to be much longer. I'd like to see more of this one.

Crap! They've found me! They're closing in! Barely time to type—

Passinthrough, I'm declaring your entry the winner, because despite all the time travelers, space travelers, and vampires and such that showed up in this week's batch of entries, yours seemed like the most fascinating glimpse of all into a totally alien world.

Okay, you've got me. I'll come along quietly. Put the Tasers away. Just give me one more moment to click [Publish Post]

OW! Dammit, no Tasers!

Monday, September 14, 2009

Ruminations of an Old Goat

I was reading Vox Day's page last week and ran across a diatribe about the Beatles that, in the comments, devolved into a diatribe against the Baby Boomers. This is my response, for which I will readily admit I have done absolutely no research. This is an opinion, nothing more.

Along with 4.3 million others, I was born in 1957. It was the crest of the baby boom. No year, before or after has seen as many births. I mention this to set my credentials as a Baby Boomer; a member most reviled generation the nation has ever seen, the generation that Gen Xers and Gen Yers -- particularly conservatives from those generations -- blame for all they see wrong with the world.

The rap on the Boomers is that we never grew up, never learned that the world didn't revolve around us. I'll go ahead and admit that there is some truth to that. I know members of my generation who haven't ever learned what it means to be a grown up. But I'm also believe no previous generation was quite like the Boomers.

I could go on about all the things in this world that are not the fault of the Boomers, but that is mostly beside the point. The thing that was truly unique about the Boomer generation is that they were far more likely than previous generations to survive into adulthood. There was no major war being fought as they grew up nor the worst depression ever seen by the industrial world. Through out the Boomer's lives, the country's wealth was increasing at such a pace that people we now consider poor are living a lifestyle that would have been considered middle class in the 1970s.

Put bluntly, more irresponsible and idiotic Boomers survived to adulthood that any generation before it.

Prior to the 20th century, life was difficult enough that only the irresponsible and idiotic off-spring of the very rich were likely to die of old age. From 1914 through 1945, the only period that was mostly free of strife was the 1920s. It's worth noting that the Roaring '20s was a period known for its excesses, the same rap the Boomers get. Wars and depressions have a tendency to reduce the surplus population by winnowing out the irresponsible and the truly stupid members of society. But the rich country that emerged from World War II could protect the irresponsible and the idiots. When LBJ's Great Society came along in the 1960s -- something the Boomers had nothing to do with, I might add -- the government took it upon themselves to further buffer those same people from the consequences of their actions.

For those of you in Gen X and Gen Y, you're going to eventually discover that the irresponsible and idiotic members of your generation will survive to adulthood, too. Your time is coming and, after the reports that Gen X and Y voters dominated the 2008 election, perhaps already here.

I also hear complaints about how Boomer's hold onto their cherished pop culture well beyond what is considered reasonable. I'd suggest a definition of "reasonable" is needed here, but once again I believe the Boomers were unique from previous generations when it came to pop culture.

The Boomers were the first generation to grow up with television. We were the first generation to own portable radios and inexpensive record players. It was the discovery by advertisers that we controlled a lot more money than previous generations (there's that "wealth" thing again) that led to more and more youth oriented marketing. In other words, the Boomers were the first generation whose pop culture was spread by mass communications and who had the means to preserve that pop culture.

Of course, this is no longer unique to the Boomers. I'm sure it won't be too much longer before we hear the Millennials (I think that's what they're calling the new generation) complaining about how Gen X and Gen Y hang on to their outdated pop culture. In other words, I believe the same things that make the Boomers irritating to Gen X and Gen Y will also cause the newer generations to view Gen X and Gen Y with the same irritation.

It's part of a latest generation's "job" to be irritated at their elders, to believe their culture is superior to all that came before it, to think that their elders cannot possibly understand their troubles and to believe that they invented sex. Eventually, each generation gets older and realizes it's not as different from the one before it as it thought.

As I'm getting tired of reading rants against my generation, I hope Gens X and Y figures this out soon.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

And the winner is...

To be announced tomorrow, as Torainfor totally overloaded my SuckUp-O-Meter and I'm probably going to be up half the night repairing and recalibrating the blasted thing. Thanks a lot, lady.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Open Mic Saturday

G'morning all, and welcome to Open Mic Saturday. This is the place to share your news and perhaps do a little bragging. If you're writing a novel: how much progress did you make this week? If you're writing short stories: did you finish anything or submit anything this week? If you've sold or published anything recently, when is it coming out and where can we find it? In short, as a writer, what kind of progress did you make this week?

Or what else is on your mind, that you feel like sharing with the group here?

Me, I've got one question for the assembled crew. How many here miss Kersley Fitzgerald's cartoons and wish she'd resume drawing them?

Friday, September 11, 2009

The Friday Challenge - 9/11/09

Wow, nice turnout for the 9/4/09 Friday Challenge, "What I Did On My Summer Vacation." As of the deadline, we have received the following entries:

Vidad, "What I Did On My Summer Vacation"

Torainfor, "My Summer Vacation"

Arisia, "What I did on my summer vacation"

Passinthrough, "Summer Vacation"

Topher, "Che cosa ha accaduto questa estate"

Henry, "What I Did On My Summer Vacation"

Al, "Nicky Weird's Summer Vacation"

As always, even if you haven't submitted an entry this week—even if you never submit an entry in any week—you're invited to read, comment on, and vote for your favorite. Don't be shy about leaving feedback on the authors' sites, either. Writers thrive on knowing that someone out there is actually reading their words. The winner will be announced on Sunday.

And now for this week's challenge.

I was supposed to be flying to Seattle on business on the morning of 9/11/2001, but fortunately the trip was canceled and rescheduled at the last minute. Instead I wandered into the office at the usual time, and remember how panicked Carol the Editor was at the morning's news. "An airplane crashed into the World Trade Center!" My initial reaction was, big deal, it's New York, something is always crashing there, and besides, Carol was always in a panic about something. But as long as it kept her glued to the TV in the conference room at the other end of the hall and out of my hair, I didn't much care.

Until the second plane hit. And then we knew the first one wasn't an accident, and the world changed.

Good Lord, was it really eight years ago?

I clearly remember that the first day was all about the panic, the hysteria, the wild rumors. Planes were dropping out of the sky all over the country. There were five—ten—no, twenty more hijacked planes up there, radio-silent and racing towards their targets. Crazed jihadists were hijacking gasoline tankers and planning to crash them into schools, and any unfamiliar truck was a potential car-bomb. The National Guard was called up and rolling out, and guys with machine guns were taking up defensive positions around the airport and the refineries.

Equally clearly, I remember that the next few days were all about the silence: the terrifying silence. My office was near the airport, a mile or two off the end of the major east-west runways. I'd gotten used to the constant aircraft noise, so when it suddenly stopped—except for the intermittent roar of the F-16s flying combat air patrol over the city—the silence was more frightening than any amount of noise.

How about you? What are your strongest memories of that day, that week? Eight years later, what sort of sense have you made of the events of 9/11/2001 and the days following? What lessons, if any, have you drawn from those times? How did your world change that day?

As always, we're competing by the loosely enforced Official Rules of the Friday Challenge, and competing for whatever is behind Door #3. The deadline for this contest is midnight Central time, Thursday, 9/17/09.

Thursday, September 10, 2009


Some of you may be wondering what the heck NASFIC is and why I'm posting something on a Thursday. For those of you who already know what NASFIC is, please be patient for a moment while I explain to everyone else.

The World Science Fiction Convention -- WorldCon -- is held every year. The presentation of the Hugo awards is the highlight of the convention, but the convention itself is a wonderland of science fiction and fantasy literature, costumes, movie and TV promotions and has a dealer room to die for. It's a place where you can easily find yourself sharing an elevator with a favorite author or find dozens of people who share your even your most esoteric interests. It's the world's biggest convention dedicated solely to science fiction and fantasy. Twenty-three years ago, WorldCon was held in Atlanta, GA, then just a two hour drive from my house. I attended, along with several friends, and had a great time. I've wanted to attend something like it ever since.

Okay, now you know about WorldCon. What's that got to do with NASFIC? NASFIC is the North American Science Fiction Convention. It is only held when WorldCon is being held overseas. In 2010, WorldCon will be in Australia, meaning the biggest science fiction convention in North America next year will be NASFIC. Equally importantly to this message, the site for the 2010 NASFIC was chosen at this year's WorldCon. Eleven months from now, ReConStruction, the title for the 2010 NASFIC, will be held in Raleigh, NC.

For those who have forgotten, I live in Raleigh. My house is maybe 15 miles from the convention center. Obviously, I'll be attending the convention. I think it would be an event to remember if we could get a whole crowd of Friday Challenges -- including our fearless leader and mentor -- to come to the convention. I've already gotten the okay from Audrey to offer a place to stay to those who can make it. Conversely, we could also follow the time honored convention tradition and pack a dozen people into a single hotel room downtown.

Perhaps we could even have our own little BeeArrBee Con somewhere in the middle of ReConStruction, complete with the launching of the sacred grill! Mainly, the convention would be a chance for many of us to meet in person for the first time, to chat and exchange ideas outside of a comments box and to have a lot of fun.

Who's interested in joining me at the convention?

Deadline Reminder

The deadline for the current Friday Challenge, "What I Did On My Summer Vacation", is midnight tonight, Central time.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009


Normally I try to avoid commenting on pro football and other religious issues, but after yesterday's stunning news, I simply cannot keep silent. Can you believe that the Vikings decided to keep Tavaris Jackson and cut John David Booty? What is wrong with these people?

I mean, let's face it, the third-string QB is never going to make a difference on the field anyway, so let's think about the important issue here: merchandising rights. Who is going to sell more purple jerseys: #7 JACKSON, or #9 BOOTY? What red-blooded American high school or college girl could resist wearing a pair of purple-and-gold Vikings warm-up pants with the name BOOTY plastered across the posterior in white letters six inches high? All you need do is Google for images of the "Booty for Heisman" campaign of a few years back and I think you'll begin to get the picture.

Honestly, I just do not understand what passes for smart thinking in the Vikings front office these days...

Ultimate Geek Fu


Al's mention of Hayden Pantyline—er, Panattiere—got me thinking, as I am sometimes known to do. Once upon a not that long ago, there was a TV series named "Heroes," and I was thoroughly hooked on it. For the first season I watched it religiously, even going so far as to program my DVD-R to record episodes if I knew I was going to be out on Monday evening, and that is something I never do. But that is how devoted I was to that series.

For the first season.

For the second season; eh, not so much. In fact, I lost interest completely a few episodes in and never bothered to watch it again. I've heard there was a third season, but can't even muster the energy now to go out to Wikipedia and confirm or deny that.

So there are today's questions. "Heroes:" what did they do right? What did they do wrong? When did the series jump the shark? Was is simply a matter of too many geeks, not enough cheerleaders? After all, even "Buffy, The Vampire Slayer" started out as a cheerleader. Or did "Heroes" simply fail to introduce sexy vampires in time?

Me, I'm thinking their biggest mistake was not using the old David Bowie song as their main title theme, but then, I'm a David Bowie fan. Your thoughts?

Let the arguments begin.

ULTIMAGE GEEK FU runs every Wednesday. Have a question that's just bugging the heck out of you about Star Wars, Star Trek, Stargate, Battlestar Gallactica, Farscape, Firefly, Fringe, Heroes, The Sarah Connor Chronicles, Smallville, The X-Files, X-Men, The Man From Atlantis, or pretty much any other SF-flavored media property? Send it to slushpile@thefridaychallenge.com with the subject line, "Geek Fu," and we'll stuff it in the queue.

Monday, September 7, 2009

And the winner is...

Apologies for the delay. We got called out of town on short notice and the trip wound up being both longer and more tiring than expected. But we're back now, and turning to the 8/28/09 Friday Challenge, Southern Knights: The Movie, we find we're disappointed that Henry missed such an obvious opportunity. No, Dragon's replacement, "Gator," should not be a local dirt-track racing legend. Rather, Gator clearly needs to be a retired professional wrassler, who beneath his scary exterior is really just a big lovable teddy bear, a really swell guy, and a hero to little kids everywhere. As such, the part becomes tailor-made for Duane "The Rock" Johnson, and the potential for WWF cross-promotional tie-ins, well...

Speaking of which, we see that Al is really thinking along the right lines in "Southern Knights Rocks!". The casting ideas are well-nigh brilliant, and the idea of the Brian Daniels battlesuit ending up being plastered with NASCAR sponsor stickers is one we wish we'd thought of. This is a really strong and funny entry that fizzles out at the very end, but understandably so. Having written a few pieces like this—although admittedly not many that were as funny—we know it's really tough to exit with a bring-down-the-house punchline. If we thought there might actually be a market for this sort of thing, we'd encourage you to rework the ending—but we don't feel like deluding you this week, so we won't.

(As an aside, though, we have to repeat here the comment we left on Al's site. Given the title, we were quite disappointed to find that Al's pseudo-review made not one single mention of all the great original Lynyrd Skynrd, Molly Hatchet, and Allman Brothers tunes that would simply have to be incorporated into this movie's soundtrack. Again, the spinoff music sales and MP3 download cross-promotions alone...)

Arisia's entry, "Southern Knights: The Movie," threw us for a bit of a loop, as it is far too serious to be handled with the same flippancy that we're handling the rest of this. Creative? Yes. An interesting departure in some unexpected directions? Yes. But just a little too serious, given the subject matter? Unfortunately, also yes. Good try, though, although not one of your best.

And thus we come to Topher's entry, "The Treatment." There is an unmistakable, undeniable, all-pervasive sense of slimy, disgusting evil simply oozing out of this piece, which leads us to wonder: you've worked in the film business before, haven't you? Or at least done a little screenwriting?

In any case, in the end, we came down to a split decision between "Southern Knights Rocks!" and "The Treatment." Both are very strong, but in different ways. Al's piece has many deadly funny moments—literally, as the mere mention of Hayden Panattiere made me laugh so hard I nearly fell out of my seat, which, considering that I was driving at the time, was not a good thing. But Topher's piece scores slightly higher on the snarky cynicism scale, and besides, Al won last week.

So in the final cut, we decided to invoke Longyear's Law and give the win to "The Treatment." Ergo, Topher, you are this week's winner; now come on down and claim your prize!

And for everyone else who submitted an entry, thought about submitting an entry, or just read the entries: thanks for giving it a try, and remember, the next Friday Challenge is already in progress!

Ruminations of an Old Goat

If you ask most comic book fans, you'll discover they started reading comics when they were in elementary or middle school and just kept on reading them. Certainly most of the fans I know started like that. I'm not like most fans.

Oh, I read comic books when I was a kid. I had a couple of Star Trek comics and a Thunder Agents comic at home, but mostly I had a friend living across the street who got his older brothers' comics when they moved on to other interests. We'd sometimes just sit in my friend's room and read comics for hours on end. The only thing I really remember from those reading sessions is that some of the comics featured Daredevil. Other than that, I didn't read comics at all until I was a freshman in college. One reason for that might be that Clemson, SC, didn't have any place I could regularly find comic books. The main reason is that I preferred spending my money on science fiction books.

That all changed when I was a freshman in college. I was in the local bookstore checking for new science fiction arrivals when something different caught my eye. Two trade paperbacks, the first ones I'd ever seen, were facing out on a shelf. What caught my eye was Spider-Man on one cover and my old friend Daredevil on the other. Spider-Man was on the cover of a book titled Origins of Marvel Comics. Daredevil appeared on Son of Origins of Marvel Comics. The two books reprinted the origin stories for more than a dozen of Marvel's most popular heroes along with commentary from Stan Lee. I flipped through both books and felt of surge of interest. I was ready to buy both books until I noticed that each one cost $6.95. That was about the same price as three or four paperbacks! I could afford one but not both. Daredevil was the deciding factor. Minutes later, I left with a copy of Son of Origins of Marvels Comics. I was back the next week to pick up Origins of Marvel Comics.

Having my appetite whetted for comic books, I discovered what I'd known all along -- they were hard to find in Clemson. So I asked the folks at bookstore where I'd bought the two origin books. I was a regular customer and they knew me well. The manager agreed that there ought to be some place to buy comic books in a college town and decided to do something about it. A few days later, they added a spinner full of the latest Marvel and DC comic books. Score!

Even with the bookstore carrying titles, there wasn't much effort made to keep things very current. Finding the next issue of a comic book was a hit and miss affair at best. I struggled along, mostly managing to follow the titles I was reading, until the summer after my freshman year. That's when a local guy opened a newsstand in town. He carried all sorts of magazines, all the regional newspapers and even the Sunday New York Times. But that wasn't the first thing I noticed when I walked into the store. What I noticed was the large, carefully arranged shelf full of comic books. It was four-color heaven! More importantly, from that point on I was always able to find the current issues of the comic books I read.

As the years passed, I would discover comic book stores that were somewhat local, was able to buy collections from from friends who were no longer interested in reading comics and generally spend way too much money on comic books. I would also gauge the reactions of various girlfriends to my two major choices in literature -- science fiction and comic books. When I found a girlfriend who had read a fair bit of science fiction and who started reading comic books with me, I married her. (We'll celebrate our 28th anniversary in October.)

In 1981, a couple of months before getting married, I headed back to college full time. I had spent the last couple of years as an off and on student, but the impending marriage had me thinking seriously about my future. Walking on campus the first day of classes, I spotted the unmistakable image of some Marvel superheroes on a notice posted around campus. It was posted by a guy interested in meeting up with other comic book fans in the hopes of starting a club. I tore off the guy's phone number and gave him a call. The guy was David Willis, a freshman at Clemson.

Just talking on the phone, we hit it off well and discovered that our comic book reading lists were nearly identical. I thought the comic book club was great idea and offered to help David in any way I could, including posting a notice down at the newsstand (where I had been working part time for several years). Soon, we were holding regular meetings, drawing a combination of college students and local kids who had seen the notice at the newsstand. Just getting together and shooting the breeze about comic books was great, but after a few months I had an idea for a new club activity. I suggested we create and publish our own comic book.

Like science fiction fans harbor the dream of writing science fiction someday, comic book fans dream of creating comic books someday. In other words, everyone thought it was a great idea. I can't say whether any of the other people in the club put much thought into characters and stories, but I certainly did. A few weeks after suggesting the club publish a comic book, I told David about four characters I had come up with. He thought they were great characters, too. The thing was, I didn't want to turn my new creations over to the rest of the people in the comic book club. When I mentioned this to David, he completely understood.

"I'd publish it myself," I told David, "if I had the money."

"How much would it cost?" David asked.

"About $2000," I said.

"I've got $2000," David said.

It's been 27 years since that conversation, so I seriously doubt I'm quoting it accurately. But that's the gist of it.

What amazes me the most out of all of this is that David's parents let him take his $2000 and go into a partnership with someone they'd never met to produce a comic book. A few years earlier, my parents had gone along with my idea of investing money in a science fiction magazine, but I'd been 21 at the time and was going to partner with the owner of the newsstand, a reputable businessman they'd known for three years. But David's parents not only went along with the idea, they were fully supportive of it. (Mine were fully supportive, too, but my situation was quite different from David's; I was 24 and married at the time.)

David didn't just supply the money for the comic book, though. He found our first artist. He found our second artist, too, after the first artist landed a monthly book with Marvel. I was the primary writer, but I consulted with David and my wife on all of the early stories.

After many trials and tribulations, the first issue of our comic book was released in August of 1982. We did a lot of things completely and totally wrong but we somehow managed to keep things going on our own for seven issues. Then we worked out a deal with comic book magazine publisher from Georgia, who took over publishing the book.

It's been 16 years since the last new issue of the Southern Knights came out. The book never made us rich. Circulation topped out around 11,000 in the late 1980s. Working on the comic book could be frustrating, agonizing and irritating. But mostly it was more fun than I could have ever imagined. And it brought me something of true and lasting value. It brought me a life-long friend.

Thanks, David.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Open Mic Saturday

G'morning all, and welcome to Open Mic Saturday. This is the place to share your news and perhaps do a little bragging. If you're writing a novel: how much progress did you make this week? If you're writing short stories: did you finish anything or submit anything this week? If you've sold or published anything recently, when is it coming out and where can we find it? In short, as a writer, what kind of progress did you make this week?

Or what else is on your mind, that you feel like sharing with the group here?

Friday, September 4, 2009

The Friday Challenge - 9/4/09

Well, well, Henry was holding out on us:
I won't be mad. Heck, if I'd have entered, I'd have setup a love interest between David Shenk and one of the girls, who would actually be his first cousin.

I'd have dumped Connie's psychic sword because nobody in the redneck South would know about swords. I'd have either replaced it with a psychic shotgun or given her a totally different power. If I'd gone with another power, it would have been super speed (brought about from her mamma drinking white lightning during the pregnancy) and given her the superhero code name Lickety Split.

Kristin would still have come from a rich family, only this time they'd be the only family in the trailer park with a double-wide. She'd still be super strong and dress like Daisy Dukes.

I'd probably have made Dragon a local dirt-racing legend who could turn into one big, mean ol' 'gator instead of a dragon. There'd even be a local legend about the gator-man who lived in the swamp and who kids and rednecks were always trying to hunt down and capture...
Too late for that now, though. As of the deadline, we have received the following entries in the 8/28/09 Friday Challenge: "Southern Knights: The Movie."

Arisia, "Southern Knights: The Movie"

Topher, "The Treatment"

Al, "Southern Knights Rocks!"

As always, even if you haven't submitted an entry this week—even if you never submit an entry in any week—you're invited to read, comment on, and vote for your favorite. Don't be shy about leaving feedback on the authors' sites, either. Writers thrive on knowing that someone out there is actually reading their words. The winner will be announced on Sunday.

And now for this week's challenge.

What I Did On My Summer Vacation
Yes, that's right, it's Labor Day weekend, and therefore time for that hoary, ancient, time-honored bane of returning school-children everywhere, "Write a 500-word essay about what you did during summer vacation." Except—

Well, they're always so boring, y'know? There's always a certain dreary sameness to the 99-percent of the essays. ("Monday, I went down to the strip mall, and spent all day hanging out in front of the arcade. Tuesday, I went down to the strip mall, and spent all day hanging out in front of the arcade. Wednesday, I got a job; keeping kids from hanging all day out in front of the arcade...")

So let's have some fun with this one. Tell us a tall tale; something wild, or ridiculous, or amazing. What do you wish you'd done? If it helps, imagine you're someone else: say, you're 12-year-old Brenda, just returned from the most boring summer EVER, but the last thing you want is for all the OTHER girls in 7th grade to know just how DULL your social life is and how WEIRD your parents are, so you're going to tell them—

Something. You have a week to figure it out.

As always, we're playing by the loosely enforced Official Rules of the Friday Challenge, and playing for whatever is behind Door #3. The deadline for this contest is midnight Central time, Thursday, 9/10/09.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Deadline Reminder

The deadline for the current Friday Challenge, Southern Knights: The Movie, is midnight tonight, Central time.

Doesn't anybody proofread any more?

From a restaurant review in this morning's St. Paul Pioneer Press:
"You've got to hand it to D'Amico and Partners. Their DNA seems to be in practically everything we're eating these days."
Does the Health Department know about this?

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Ultimate Geek Fu

It's Mash-Up Time!

As you have no doubt heard by now, the most incredible news in the geekiverse this week is that Disney has entered into an agreement to purchase Marvel, in exchange for some shuffling back and forth of stock shares and an amount of cash greater than the combined annual GDP of most of your smaller countries. The possibilities are, well—

Will Darkwing Duck finally get that brooding, dangerous, Frank Miller-type treatment he so richly deserves? Will The Punisher guest-star in Bambi II: The Buck Stops Here. ("You killed my mother! You cooked and ate her! It's payback time, Castle!") Will Thor preside over the festivities in the "Ride of the Valkyries" sequence in Fantasia 2010? And just what is the relationship between Prince Namor and Ariel, the Little Mermaid?

Am I the only one here who remembers Peter Porker, The Spectacular Spider-Ham, and his recurring nemesis, Ducktor Doom? (If ever there was a Marvel character just begging to be turned into a Disney animated feature...)

How about it? What are the new DisneyMarvel products that you would love to see?

Let the arguments begin.

ULTIMAGE GEEK FU runs every Wednesday. Have a question that's just bugging the heck out of you about Star Wars, Star Trek, Stargate, Battlestar Gallactica, Farscape, Firefly, Fringe, Heroes, The Sarah Connor Chronicles, Smallville, The X-Files, X-Men, The Man From Atlantis, or pretty much any other SF-flavored media property? Send it to slushpile@thefridaychallenge.com with the subject line, "Geek Fu," and we'll stuff it in the queue.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Confessions of a One-Man Band

I started out this morning intending to write a moderately serious follow-up to yesterday's Rumination, in the form of a column discussing techniques for faking having the ability to draw, but ended up thinking about Les Paul instead.

This is not quite the cerebral short-circuit it might seem. Les Paul is variously credited as the inventor, popularizer, or godfather of multi-track recording and overdubbing, and on further reflection writing, drawing, and self-publishing your own comic book is almost exactly like using a multi-track recording studio to make your own music and become a one-man (or woman) band.

It's an occupational hazard, I suppose. It takes no small amount of egotism to believe you're creating something that other people will want to read, watch, or listen to in the first place, and no small amount of effort to develop your primary talent. But having developed that primary talent to the point where it's actually becoming interesting to others, it takes only a tiny surplusage of conceit to begin to think, "Well, if I've done this much, I can also do that."

And pretty soon, having set out to become a writer, you find yourself studying bookbinding and learning how to saddle-stitch. Or browsing through your local Dick Blick store and stocking-up on Bristol board and pedigreed pencils. Or thinking, "Heck, all drumming is is hitting things with sticks. I can do that!"

There are genuine polymaths and prodigies out there, of course; people with strong talents in multiple areas. Once in a great while it does work, and the results can be amazing to behold. But for every Buddy Holley singing that gorgeous overdubbed close harmony with himself on "Words of Love," there are also a thousand would-be Pete Townshends, Paul McCartneys, and Todd Rundgrens working long hours into the night to give new meaning to the term, "self-indulgent crap."

"Oh?" you protest, "Then what about [insert name here]? He writes and draws great comic books!"

Well, perhaps. But I believe that on closer inspection and more thoughtful reflection, you'd find that he draws great comic books, and the story absent the artwork is no great shakes. That's one of the deceptive things about writing: good or bad, it's so easily masked by so many other things. Film directors especially rely on visual energy and snappy editing to overwhelm bad writing. Just think of all the movies you've watched that were terrifically exciting while you were watching them in the theater, but the moment you emerged blinking into the afternoon daylight left you saying, "Huh? What the Hell was that all about?"

As I said, occupational hazard. Drummers want to play guitar. Guitarists want to sing. Singers want to act. Actors want to write. Writers want to direct. Directors want to produce. Producers want to rule the world, but they can't afford the pay cut.

That is what you are when you choose to write and draw. You're the writer, but you're also the producer, the director, the camera man, the set designer, the dialog coach, the lighting technician, the costumer, the hairstylist, the Foley artist, the stunt double, and the gaffer's best boy. Any one of these is a primary talent that can take an entire career to develop.

I'm not saying don't try. Go ahead. Aim high. You can always lower your point-of-aim later. But remember that you are tackling two different and fairly demanding disciplines, and also remember that exercising a creative talent—such as, say, drawing—always looks a whole lot easier when you're watching someone else do it. Finally, remember that any time devoted to developing Talent #2 is time taken away from using Talent #1.

Your thoughts, comments, or observations?
blog comments powered by Disqus