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Tuesday, November 30, 2010


Kersley Fitzgerald

Is this your first NaNo? How many have you done? How many have you won?

I’ve done and completed every NaNo since ’07. I did ’07 alone, and only after found out my best friend in town did NaNo, also. I’m typical first-born-check-all-the-boxes, so I feel guilty not finishing them. Just sucks ‘cus whatever workout groove I’ve finally gotten into in October goes out the window.

What's your story about for this NaNo?

My story is a three-way weave. There’s an apartment manager who’s actually an Orc who meets a social worker who gets a call on a magic phone from a mom in Nebraska who can’t find her son. There’s also a wizard stealing emotional communication cortexes (whatever the heck those are), the daughter of Aphrodite, and talking cows. One talking cow, in particular, who’s married to a frog who can’t talk because frogs don’t talk. My goal was to tell an entertaining story that was also delightfully goofy and didn’t take itself too seriously.

How did you come up with that story?

It’s a conglomeration of three things: a dream I had about a woman who finds a telephone that transmits calls from people’s heart-broken cries, a submission for a group story about an Orc detective in Chicago and his tiny flying dog, and the experiences my super-creative friend had moving to small-town Nebraska. Unbelievably, it’s all working out.

This year, as always, I didn’t know what I was writing about until the very last moment.

Do you intend to finish the novel, or are you using it more as an exercise?

I’ll finish it. I haven’t finished the last two—the ’08 one because it got really complicated (although it has the potential to be pretty good), the ’09 one because I’m not sure I like it. But, in between NaNos, I have finished three other novels.

What do you like about NaNo?

Writing is so solitary; it’s nice to meet up at the regional write-ins. I also like that my bf-in-town, Mangycat, does it, but she had to drop out this year. It’s like running a marathon. It’s not that it’s particularly enjoyable to run 26.2 miles, but you get bragging rights for the rest of your life. And, actually, it’s easier than running a marathon.

How do you compete in NaNo and not lose your mind?

I have a different strategy every year. The first two years, I just spent the entirety of November freaking out. Last year, knowing we were going to the in-laws’ for Thanksgiving, I resolved to write 5000 words total, Monday-Friday, and 5000 words each on Saturday and Sunday. I think the most I wrote was 8500 words in one day. This year, I totally relaxed, trying to keep it to about 2000 words a day unless I got too far ahead, in which case I took a day off. I still managed to pass 50,000 on the 27th. I also cheated. Some of the words were from two different short-story-beginnings that I added in. I did that because those words needed to be where I put them, and because I didn’t include any of my fulfilled plotting in the word count.

Anything else for the hobbitses (and hirsute elves)?

If you want to compete, but have a hard time getting the words in, it’s perfectly fine to plot before November 1st. Figure out characters, flow, even chapter outlines. And if you cheat and start early or use previously written materials, there’s a name for that—just call yourself a “Rebel.”

Thousands of people around the world pass 50,000 words every year. There is a student in Virginia who, as of this writing on the 29th, is standing at over 25,000 words. If you question her one 200,000-word day, there is another writer in Maine who breached 200,000 words, making this her fifth win in a row. Even if you stick with the more realistic goal of 50,000 words, you can do this—if you want to. If you don’t want to, you can’t do it.

Monday, November 29, 2010


The Bandit

Is this your first NaNo? How many have you done? How many have you won?

This is my second NaNoWriMo. I first heard of NaNo right here at The Friday Challenge in July 2009, thanks to a fantabulous article written up by Al Davis (http://thefridaychallenge.blogspot.com/2009/07/glutton-for-punishment.html). Fifty thousands words in a month was daunting, but the concept appealed to me. I had a huge story idea that I had been promising people I would write that just wasn't getting written fast enough, and I figured it'd be a good experience of what it's like to actually be a writer pumping out words regularly.

I got a late start (which seems like a common experience for beginning wrimos), but I worked hard on the weekends reaching four thousand words most Saturdays and Sundays and finally pulled ahead to be a NaNoWriMo winner (which seems like a much less common experience for beginning -- heck, even repeat -- wrimos)! The victory was exhilarating -- and absolutely terrifying. You see, having just finished producing fifty thousands words within the period of one month, I had indeed gained the experience of what it was like to be a writer pumping out words regularly. It was a heck of a lot of work. And the fifty thousand words I had written hadn't even taken me one third the way through my novel! The thought of 1.5 more NaNo's work left to finish intimidated me so much that I did not pick it up again for several months. (Yes, I did eventually pick it back up, and though it's on hold currently because of NaNo, it's up to eighty thousand print words and about three quarters finished.)

What's your story about for this NaNo?

Y'all probably remember my "Summer of My Dreams" entry back in August, which got reviewed at the special summit of Friday Challengers at the writer's convention. The warm response to the story idea -- by both people here and others who read it -- as well as some comments regarding its theme inspired me to take the story and develop it further into a youth lit novel for NaNo.

How did you come up with that story?

I had this dream, you see....

Actually, I had a scene that I wanted to capture, one that had been flitting about in the back of my consciousness and needed to be netted and pinned down onto the display board of my blog. The particular Friday challenge was just an excuse to do that. But to turn it from a scene into a story, I needed a set-up, which lead to the idea of dream control, and from there... well, things just kept snowballing until I had a story that was bigger than I had expected and not enough scenes to wrap it up.

Do you intend to finish the novel, or are you using it more as an exercise?

I hate starting things that I don't finish.

Writing this first draft has been a mess. Side characters are completely underdeveloped. I'm writing more essential conversations and scenes than anything, and in my opinion so far I've created nothing but a boring novel with disjointed pacing. The second draft is going to be intense, and probably involve much more serious writing than anything I am putting out right now.

When the end of the month comes, I'm going back to last year's NaNo project. I want to complete it, and revise it, before returning to this project. It may end up on the back-burner for a couple of years. But I'd like to finish it eventually.

What do you like about NaNo?

I like finding other friends who are participating in NaNo. I like watching their word counts rise alongside of my own.

I like how NaNo gets me to write -- not just a little, but a lot.

NaNo last year taught me to just write. It doesn't matter that everything flowing from my fingertips is limp and fetid. After pushing on for a little while, the inspiration strikes again and I get some really good scenes. Then I can go back and re-write the crappy parts, after I better understand the scene and when I have time to be finicky about my style and tone. If I just waited around for those inspired moments, then sure, I'd still produce some nice scenes, but at a pace that would never raise me above the level of a dilletante. NaNo reminds me to appreciate the first draft, to make a goal to be a writer and then to stick with it, come hell or really, really lame dialogue.

I have an original Bandit Quote from this year's NaNo that's pretty much echoing what I learned from last year's NaNo:

"First drafts are like constipation: It takes a lot of work and, if you’re lucky, you end up with $#%!"

How do you compete in NaNo and not lose your mind?

All of the riffs on this one have been taken already.

It helps when you lose your job. That's given me a good deal of free time to dedicate to NaNo this year. And it's given me a good opportunity to see how I might behave -- or at least start to direct some discipline into how I should behave -- should I seek to do writing more professionally.

Though before you cry "Ah ha! He's cheating!" I've really not taken advantage of all the extra time the job loss has given me for NaNo. I find myself having to buckle down at nine in the evening and force myself to crank out the day's 1,667 words before midnight, just like I tended to do last year when I was working full time. What is it about laziness that's so hard to overcome until the deadline is looming threateningly over you?

I also do things to help myself psychologically. NaNo can be as much of a curse as it can of a help. Three days off, and suddenly you're looking at making up a deficit of over six thousand words! Have a bad week, and you're over ten thousand behind! I see that kill a lot of wrimos' spirits. I know I am weak in that area, so I try to constantly write extra. This year I stayed up late on Halloween and got my first day's words in before I went to bed on Nov. 1. Then I did another day's work the next day! The head start gave me an edge and made me excited. And also proved to be helpful when I wasn't able to write at all the next weekend.

I also push myself harder than the minimum requirements. Any day that I can, I go for 2,000 words. And I've been counting print words instead of word count words, which gives me a hidden edge of nearly one hundred words per thousand that will give me a boost at the end of the month. This gives me both a psychological safety net and a psychological goad to work harder.

Anything else for the hobbitses (and hirsute elves)?

Don't let the pacing weed you out of the race. As Al pointed out in his article that originally turned me on to NaNo, you may not be an official "winner" at 20,000 words in a month, but that's still 20,000 words you might not have written otherwise. NaNo's pacing is ridiculous. I find that I hit points in my story where -- despite having learned the lesson of pushing through the writer's block -- I start getting angry and frustrated at the prospect of writing. I find myself flat out unhappy at the idea of writing more of the story.

So I don't. I take a break for a couple of days until my batteries recharge. It's got me working at over a 4,000 print word deficit at the moment, but whenever I return I'm usually renewed and energized enough that I can start making up for lost words. Everyone has a different creative process. I'm finding that my best writing is when I've had a scene in my head for several days or even weeks before I sit down to try to relate it to another through the printed word. I say that I've got the story percolating in the back of my mind -- makes for some really savory writing.

That doesn't work for NaNo. So if that's what I required for myself, I'd have to switch my expectations within the contest. Maybe I'd consider myself a winner at 25,000 words or more. At my first NaNo, my actual goal was 40,000 words -- and then when I got there, and 50,000 was so close I could taste it, that gave me the extra drive to complete the NaNoWriMo challenge outright. I would have been a winner either way.

So, NaNo may be over. It may be too late for you to get your 2010 NaNoWriMo winner .gif. But that doesn't mean you should sit around and wait for next year. If you got behind on NaNo this year and feel like you'd like a second chance, I've got a challenge for you: Go for 11,000 words in 7 days, starting today. Then post back here if you make it. If you do that, you'll still be a winner in my book.

The Bandit is hoping to get over that 50,000-work mark tonight. I completely expect that he will.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Worm as Protagonist

The Little Worm that Did

Your mission, should you accept it, is to write a story wherein the protagonist is the code.

Open Mic Saturday

Good 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 participating in NaNoWriMo: how's it going? 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?

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Happy Thanksgiving From All of Us At the Friday Challenge!

For those Challengers outside of the U.S., today is Thanksgiving, one of the major holidays here in the States. It's a day set aside to reflect on the previous year and give thanks for the blessings in our lives. This year has been a long and stressful for many of us associated with the Friday Challenge, yet there are still many things for which I am thankful. I'm going to share those in the comments section and invite all of you to do the same, should you wish.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Ultimate Geek Fu Thinks About Going to the Movies

With the release of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows - Part 1, another holiday movie season is upon us. There are a lot of movies, including the one I've just mentioned, vying for the average geek's movie dollars.

Let's start with latest Harry Potter movie. Is anyone else tired of these things? I mean, this will be the seventh Potter movie in nine year. That's one heck of a lot of Hogwarts and rules-breaking-to-save-the-world on Harry's part. A big group of people are going to see this on Friday and I'll probably go along, but I just can't build up any real excitement for it.

Megamind is another one that's already out. As an old superhero fan, I find myself curious about this one despite its unoriginal-sounding villain-as-hero plot. With all the other stuff coming out, though, it may get pushed back until it comes out on DVD.

Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson does Vin Diesel doing Rambo in Faster. From the previews, it looks to be a blood-soaked, take-the-law-into-your-own-hands revenge fantasy. I guess it was only a matter of time before he got tired of being the Tooth Fairy. I'll pass.

In what may be the last of the Disney "princess" movies, Tangled brings a Disneyfied version of Rapunzel to big screen. Word is that Disney held this one back while upping the action content in the hopes of getting boys interested in seeing the movie. Even if it doesn't work, Disney has already announced that they're going to be doing more action-oriented movies because boys like those and girls no longer want to be princesses. (God help us all, little girls apparently want to be "cool" and "hot.") I generally like Disney animated movies (Chicken Little and A Christmas Carol excepted), so Audrey and I will go see this one. I expect the Boy will avoid it like the plague.

The Warrior's Way looks like a combination of a Chinese "wire fu" fantasy action movie and a western. The one preview I've seen intrigued me and the alliterative combination of swords and six-guns could be fun. If the Boy is interested, I suspect we'll find time to catch this in the theaters.

Defying expectations, the third Narnia movie, Voyage of the Dawn Treader, was actually made and will hit theaters on December 10. I've enjoyed the previous two movies well enough to plan to see this one in the theaters, too. It helps that the Boy is interested, as well.

On December 17, the geek-out movie of this Christmas season hits theaters. Featuring some of the original cast and vastly superior special effects, Tron: Legacy is probably the most anticipated movie on this list; at least by geeks, anyway. Twenty-eight years after the original confused the heck out of everyone but us geeks and several years after the first footage was shown at ComicCom, the full movie will finally hit the big screen. Lightcycles? Cyberspace? Video games? What's not to like? The Boy and I will definitely be there.

Did I miss any movies all true geeks should be planning to see? And what about you? Are you getting tired of Harry Potter? Did you see the original Tron in the theaters and can't wait for the sequel? What movies are you looking forward to this season?

Let the arguments begin!

Monday, November 22, 2010

"Is There Anybody Out There?"

In response to Arisia's plaintive cry on Saturday morning, I wrote—

Well, more honestly, I started to write a column, but was preempted by OTOGU. Great-Grandmama has decided to fly up and spend Thanksgiving week with my family, and as a result all other plans for the past weekend gave way to a frenzy of manic house-cleaning in anticipation of her arrival. Great-Grandmama will try to sneak through the TSA checkpoints disguised as a 92-year-old stroke victim who needs a walker to be ambulatory. We'll let you know how that turns out.

In belated answer to Arisia's question, then: yes, we're still out here, and yes, we're still at least thinking about and discussing the possible futures of The Friday Challenge. But Kersley is swamped with a new job, school, and family life; Henry's wife, Audrey, is responding well to treatment and making progress but still has a long way to go; and my wife, Karen, began chemotherapy last week. If you're wondering: yes, chemo is everything you've ever heard it was. And more.

The more I think about these things, though, the more I find myself wanting to return to first principles. In counterpoint to most writer's sites, The Friday Challenge was never supposed to be about me, my life, or my cult of personality—or by extension, anyone else's private life, either. It was supposed to be a place where writers, aspiring writers, and those who enjoy the written word could get together to share news, provide encouragement, and discuss ideas.

Ergo, here is the idea that I would like to see us discuss, not in the comments on this post, but after a little more thought and reflection and in a series of major guest pieces to be posted in the weeks to come. Simply stated: Why do we write?

I mean, let's face it. It takes something... special ...to take time away from the people and things of here and now to spend it spinning tales of things imaginary, and something even more special to ask other people to spend their time reading that which you have written.

So why do you do it? Why do you write? What do you hope to accomplish with your writing?

The topic is now open. Give it some thought, write your answer, and then send it to either me or Henry at the email addresses in the left sidebar. (Yes, we know that drop.io is going extinct shortly. No, we haven't come up with a replacement yet.) We can't guarantee when we'll run your post, but assuming your answer is not, "I @#$(*&ing write @#$&ing stories to give full-@#(*&$#@ing vent to my @#($*&ing untreated Tourette's syndrome," we will run it.

Thanks, and kindest regards,

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Open Mic Saturday

Good 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 participating in NaNoWriMo: how's it going? 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?

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

NaNoWriMo Update

Well, I'd been meaning to update the fierce competition among us Friday Challengers to complete NaNoWriMo more often than I have. As you'll see shortly, updates aren't the only thing I've been failing to work on regularly. Here is how we all stand (FC username, if different from NaNoWriMo username, in parentheses):

AlDavis (Al) - 4619 words
Arisia - 609 words
stuartwatkinson (Watkinson) - 2363 words
torainfor (Kersley Fitz) - 29,874 words
the bandit - 23,035 words
VintageSeason (M) - 836 words
Carmine Vrill - 9002 words
Henry - 3345 words

It looks like Kersley is well on her way to successfully completing the challenge. (We hates her, Precious! Oh yes, hates all nasty, dedicated writerses!) The bandit has slipped somewhat behind schedule, but he's still in the running. It's not impossible for any of the rest of us to still do this, just highly unlikely -- especially when I have the same word count I reported 11 days ago.

I'd offer excuses, but they'd mostly be just that, excuses. Right now, I'm going to try to galvanize myself to get back to writing the story. I'm less interested in "winning" NaNoWriMo than I am in getting myself into the habit of writing a few thousand words a week.

The Return of The Son of Ultimate Geek Fu

I am jealous. Twenty-some years ago I almost wrote this story—or to be more accurate, I wrote a story which was almost this story. Unfortunately it never occurred to me to play the "lousy rock band on the road meets a vampire" story line for laughs, or to make Lucy the star of the show, or to make the roadie the Renfield character, not the Van Helsing character.

It's obvious, really. Roadies are natural Renfields. Why didn't I think of that? As elaborated upon at length in "From Castle Dracula to Merlotte's Bar & Grill: Some Notes on the Evolution of the Modern Vampire," which can be found in the BenBella Books anthology, A Taste of True Blood, the archetypes were codified by Bram Stoker but extend back to Beowulf. All vampire stories must include a vampire, a hero, a Renfield, a Lucy, and a Van Helsing.

Anyway, I got the polarity wrong, and as a result wrote a weak story that didn't sell, but never mind that now. What I really want to talk about is Suck.

Short take: this one appears to be a modest-budget Canadian-made indie horror film, but that's not a problem. It's actually really funny, in a sick, twisted, and blood-spattered way, and both Alice Cooper and Iggy Pop actually have significant roles in it. What I really want to talk about today, though, is the music in the film.

A movie about a rock band on tour should have plenty of rock 'n' roll, y'know? And this one—well, while there isn't a single song on the soundtrack that's unforgettably good, there thankfully aren't any that are unforgettably bad, either. But my question is, aside from, say, The Buddy Holly Story, has there ever been a movie about a rock band on tour that actually had good music?

Let the arguments begin.

Monday, November 15, 2010


Guy Stewart
POSSIBLY IRRITATING ESSAY: One Holy Klingon and Apostolic Church

Maybe it’s just me, but I can see on cursory inspection several similarities between the Roman Catholic Church and the religion created for the imaginary, fictional aliens called the “Klingons”:

Catholics: THE BIBLE: As in all Christian Churches , the Bible is the source of doctrine and provides a “roadmap” to following the tenets of Christianity. As well, it offers a history of events that led up to the establishment of Judaism and Christianity as well as commentary on those events, stories of the heroes and heroines of the faith and expectations of what is to come.

Klingons: PAQ’BATLH: The Paq'batlh is a large series of ancient Klingon scrolls and religious texts that, among other things, passes on the stories of Kahless. Along the side of the scrolls are icons of the Klingon culture, such as bat'leths, d'k tahgs, and the emblem of the Empire. Among the scrolls in the paq'batlh are Klavek's tomes. The Eleventh Tome of Klavek describes how Kahless came back from the afterlife, and had kept a scar to show that what he'd experienced was real, so that he may save the soul of his brother. (VOY: "Barge of the Dead")

Catholics: CREATION: God created the Heavens and the Earth and gave them and all that was in them to Adam and Eve with a single exception – they couldn’t eat from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. Adam and Eve did so anyway, earned the punishment for disobedience: being cast out of God’s presence. (See Genesis 2:1-3:24)

Klingons: CREATION: "With fire and steel did the gods forge the Klingon heart. So fiercely did it beat, so loud was the sound, that the gods cried out, 'On this day we have brought forth the strongest heart in all the heavens. None can stand before it without trembling at its strength.' But then the Klingon heart weakened, its steady rhythm faltered and the gods said, 'Why do you weaken so? We have made you the strongest in all of creation.' And the heart said... 'I am alone.' And the gods knew that they had erred. So they went back to their forge and brought forth another heart. But the second heart beat stronger than the first, and the first was jealous of its power. Fortunately, the second heart was tempered by wisdom. 'If we join together, no force can stop us.' And when the two hearts began to beat together, they filled the heavens with a terrible sound. For the first time, the gods knew fear. They tried to flee, but it was too late. The Klingon hearts destroyed the gods who created them and turned the heavens to ashes. To this very day, no one can oppose the beating of two Klingon hearts."
A version of this creation myth is told during the traditional Klingon wedding ceremony: DS9: "You Are Cordially Invited")

Catholics: ANGELS/FALLEN ANGELS: St. Augustine says: "'Angel' is the name of their office, not of their nature. If you seek the name of their nature, it is ‘spirit'; if you seek the name of their office, it is ‘angel': from what they are, ‘spirit,' from what they do, ‘angel.' With their whole beings the angels are servants and messengers of God. Because they "always behold the face of my Father who is in heaven" they are the "mighty ones who do his word, hearkening to the voice of his word." As purely spiritual creatures angels have intelligence and will: they are personal and immortal creatures, surpassing in perfection all visible creatures, as the splendor of their glory bears witness. From the Incarnation to the Ascension, the life of the Word incarnate is surrounded by the adoration and service of angels. They will be present at Christ's return, which they will announce, to serve at his judgment. (Cf. Acts 1:10-11; Mt 13:41; 24:31; Lk 12:8-9) For more information, see the Catechism of the Catholic Church, sections 328 and following: http://www.usccb.org/catechism/text/pt1sect2chpt1art1p5.htm

Klingons: FALLEN ANGELS: In Klingon mythology, the kos'karii are pale, serpent-like creatures which inhabit the blood-red waters crossed by the Barge of the Dead on its way to Gre'thor. They attempt to lure dishonored souls to them with voices of friends and loved ones, and then drag them into the water. (VOY: "Barge of the Dead") ___________________________________________

Catholics: UNIQUENESS OF THE CHURCH: Belief that the Church is the vessel and deposit of the fullness of the teachings of Jesus and the Apostles from which the Scriptures were formed. This teaching is preserved in both written scripture and in unwritten tradition, neither being independent of the other.

Klingons: UNIQUENESS OF THE KLINGON PEOPLE: “Early in the 23rd Century…the Klingons trumpeted their superiority over the physically inferior and comparatively docile humans…”

Catholics: JESUS the CHRIST: Belief that Jesus Christ is Divine, a doctrine officially clarified in the First Council of Nicea and expressed in the Nicene Creed.

Klingons: KAHLESS: Kahless awaits all Klingons in Sto-vo-kor: the life, which lies beyond this life. His teachings of honor and tradition form the basis of modern Klingon philosophy and culture. Kahless is still worshipped as a divine figure by the Klingons. (VOY: "Day of Honor")

Catholic: THE SECOND COMING: Few truths are more often or more clearly proclaimed in Scripture than that of the general judgment. To it the prophets of the Old Testament refer when they speak of the "Day of the Lord" (Joel 2:31; Ezekiel 13:5; Isaiah 2:12), in which the nations will be summoned to judgment. In the New Testament the second Parusia, or coming of Christ as Judge of the world, is an oft-repeated doctrine. The Saviour Himself not only foretells the event but graphically portrays its circumstances (Matthew 24:27 sqq.; 25:31 sqq.). The Apostles give a most prominent place to this doctrine in their preaching (Acts 10:42;17:31) and writings (Romans 2:5-16; 14:10; 1 Corinthians 4:5; 2 Corinthians 5:10; 2 Timothy 4:1; 2 Thessalonians 1:5; James 5:7). Besides the name Parusia (parousia), or Advent (1 Corinthians 15:23; 2 Thessalonians 2:19), the Second Coming is also called Epiphany, epiphaneia, or Appearance (2 Thessalonians 2:8; 1 Timothy 6:14; 2 Timothy 4:1; Titus 2:13), and Apocalypse (apokalypsis), or Revelation (2 Thessalonians 2:7; 1 Peter 4:13). The time of the Second Coming is spoken of as "that Day" (2 Timothy 4:8), "the day of the Lord" (1 Thessalonians 5:2), "the day of Christ" (Philemon 1:6), "the day of the Son of Man" (Luke 17:30), "the last day" (John 6:39-40).

Klingon: THE SECOND COMING: Upon his death, Kahless promised he would return one day and lead the Empire again. Since his death, it is said that Kahless awaits all Klingons in Sto-vo-kor: the life, which lies beyond this life. His teachings of honor and tradition form the basis of modern Klingon philosophy and culture. Kahless is still worshipped as a divine figure by the Klingons. (VOY: "Day of Honor") Kahless later invented the forms of what would become the Mok'bara when he went to the Underworld in search of his father. Kahless showed him the forms, and his father was able to remember his body and return to the world of the living. (TNG: "Birthright, Part II") When Kahless united the people and gave them the laws of honor, he saw that his work was done. So one night he gathered his belongings and went to the edge of the city to say good-bye. The people wept, they did not want him to go. And Kahless said, "You are Klingons. You need no one but yourselves. I will go now, to Sto-Vo-Kor. But I promise one day I will return." Then Kahless pointed to a star in the sky and said, "Look for me there, on that point of light." (TNG: "Rightful Heir") The story of "The Promise" indicated that Kahless was to reappear in the lava caves on the planet of Boreth. The Followers of Kahless, or "Guardians", waited there for his return. To Klingons, there was no more sacred place. For over 1,500 years, Klingons came to Boreth to ask questions. According to the Clerics, the only way a Klingon warrior could find the answers they sought was to: "Open your heart to Kahless, ask him your questions, let him speak to you with your mind unclouded by doubt or hesitation. Only then can you find what you are looking for." (TNG: "Rightful Heir")

Catholics: PURGATORY: Pope John Paul II used his Wednesday general audience during the period of late 1999-JUL to early 1999-AUG to discuss topics related to life after death. He had described heaven and hell; at his AUG-4 audience, he described Purgatory. He affirmed Roman Catholic theology that: "Before we enter into God's Kingdom, every trace of sin within us must be eliminated, every imperfection in our soul must be corrected. This is exactly what takes place in purgatory." But he continued by stating that Purgatory "does not indicate a place but a condition of life. Those who, after death, live in this state of purification are already immersed in the love of Christ which lifts them out of the residue of imperfection." Like Hell, Purgatory is not a physical place. He urged Christians to pray and do good works on behalf of those in purgatory, so that the latter will be released earlier than they would otherwise be.

Klingons: PURGATORY: Sto-vo-kor is, in Klingon mythology, the afterlife for the honored dead, where all true warriors go after they die to fight an eternal battle against great enemies. The halls of Sto-vo-kor were said to be guarded by Kahless the Unforgettable. A Klingon can enter Sto-vo-kor by dying in battle or while performing a heroic deed. In addition, they may enter Sto-vo-kor by allowing themselves to be killed by another Klingon. (DS9: "Children of Time"). Alternatively, the relatives of the deceased can also perform such a deed in the name of the fallen to ensure their arrival in the halls. In 2375, Worf destroyed the Monac shipyards in the name of Jadzia Dax, in order to gain her entry into Sto-vo-kor. (DS9: "Image in the Sand", "Shadows and Symbols")



Story-a-Day is an attempt to bring a small bit of humor and amusement to Mrs. ~brb and Audrey as they fight very serious illnesses. If you have a short, amusing story, please send it to kersley.fitz at yahoo dot com. If you'd prefer, you can drop it in the drop.io (password: challenge) and email me to let me know it's there. And do we need to mention that the opinions expressed in any given article or story are those of the author and not of The Executive Cat Herder in Chief, The Chief Feline Officer, She Who Must Be Obeyed, or any of the fine hobbitses (and hirsute elves) who frequent this little piece of teh interwebs? I didn't think so.

Sunday, November 14, 2010


M. David Blake

Is this your first NaNo? How many have you done? How many have you won?

This is the first year I’ve ever participated in NaNoWriMo. In fact, I got off to a late start: I didn’t even register until almost midnight on 3 November, and started writing the next morning. NaNo kindly points out that to hit 50,000 words in thirty days, a writer must average 1,667 words per day... which put me 5,001 words behind (in other words, an entire short story!) out of the starting gate.

How did you first learn about NaNo?

Funny you should ask, because I’ve been relatively aware of it almost from the beginning. The NaNoWriMo project began in 1999, while I was in the middle of College, Round II. That year they had twenty-one participants. The next year they had a hundred forty. The year after that, in 2001, they had something like five thousand people sign up, because it had spread by word-of mouth. I learned about NaNoWriMo sometime in mid-2001, because I was in a lot of English courses that year (including, if I have my chronology correct, a certain famous “course dedicated to the study of science fiction,” which I “utterly flunked”), and a few of my friends entered.

So what kept me from entering in 2001? I was driving a few hundred miles every other weekend to see my fiancée, and we were planning a wedding, and I was spending just about every waking moment thinking about her.

All in all, I consider that a good reason.

What’s your story about for this NaNo?

Story? It’s supposed to be a story? I knew I should have read the rules more closely....

All right, here is my serious answer: It is essentially the setup for a multi-season, episodic storyline about a (usually) female private contractor, thief, and assassin with some unusual abilities. She isn’t human, but she doesn’t know quite what she is, either. She struggles with morality and consequences, because even though she sees them in play, they don’t always have the same implications within her own mental framework. At the same time, she isn’t always sure how much of that internal struggle is because of her non-human differences, and how much might be residual damage from some trauma she experienced... or inflicted.

On a subconscious level, I crafted a science fiction adventure/drama for which you could cast any reasonably attractive brunette with high cheekbones and a healthy dose of martial arts training, into one of those she-can-become-anyone-or-anything roles... as long as your definition of “anything” includes the words “smokin’ hot badass.”

How did you come up with that story?

I sat down at the keyboard and began typing. There wasn’t really any planning involved, and I had no idea what I was going to write before I began.
Here are the first two paragraphs, as they spilled onto the page:

He was waiting on the veranda. Sunshine and bird song permeated the air, and I knew the small glass table held a Bloody Mary for him, and a Mimosa for me. I’d been drinking Mimosas each morning since we’d met.

Mimosas are revolting. Orange juice has always been a taste I love, and champagne merely something I can tolerate. The combination kills everything I enjoy about the one, and emphasizes all the flaws of the other. A good Bloody Mary would have been much more appropriate, although no one ever serves them the right way. Coffee would have been best.

When I wrote those lines, my first mug of morning coffee was sitting beside me, and I had not yet indulged in a sip. I was probably longing for the coffee, but eager to begin the project.

Those few words set the scene for lots of internal conflict. This character is a walking contradiction, who won’t let personal preference get in the way of what she needs to do... but she definitely has those personal preferences, and will thoroughly indulge them if it is both possible and safe to do so.

At that point I stopped and had a few sips of coffee.

Do you intend to finish the novel, or are you using it more as an exercise?

Oh, I’ll finish. I won’t necessarily require myself to finish it this month, or even the next (although if Joel Surnow, J. J. Abrams or Joss Whedon decided to make me an offer, I am fairly certain I could do so).

For me, this is primarily an exercise, with an ulterior motive.

Oh, I should explain that? All right, but to do so we’ll need to examine the framework a little, and I’ll have to use myself as a glorified illustration.

A lot of new authors sign up for NaNoWriMo each year, because they have one story that they really want to write. A lot of them will also finish, and they’ll have 50,000+ words of a story.

Of those, a large portion will set their finished work aside, and get back to “real life.” This is essentially a subtle form of denial, because successful authors also have to deal with “real life.” There isn’t any magic switch that gets thrown once you’ve been published. The bills still have to be paid, the kids are still going to whine about having to eat vegetables, and the cat is still gonna throw up on the piano bench... yet the portion that finish their novel and return to “real life” imagine that successful authors live within gilded palaces, insulated from reality.

Now, a lot of those finished novels sitting in dusty drawers and neglected on hard drives are the purest dreck, and justifiably forgotten... although some of them are probably pretty good, or at least publishable. But a lot of those authors, having written the one story they needed to write, found that having done so satisfied the need.

That isn’t me.

Another portion will finish their novel and then say, “Gee, this is awesome! I’m a writer! Now I just need to get this published.” A good chunk of those will go the quick-and-easy route by throwing it onto one of the self-publishing eBook sites, and either giving it away or charging a small fee, with no further idea of how to proceed.

No disrespect is intended to those self-publishing eBook sites. As an example of their worth, I’ll testify that earlier this year I put “We Don’t Plummet Out of the Sky Anymore” on Smashwords, and made it a free download, because I wanted to see whether there was any market for my writing. As of this morning, Smashwords told me the story has been downloaded 39,636 times (which is roughly the current print circulation of Analog, Asimov’s and Fantasy & Science Fiction combined) and it’s the fourth most accessed work on the entire site. I don’t know how many times it’s been grabbed through Barnes & Noble or Apple’s iBookstore or Sony. Maybe those are all in the Smashwords number. When I did the eBook Signing Event though, I gave away enough additional copies to push the total number of recipients well over the 40k mark.

The story is doing quite well, but none of those downloads put any money in my hands. If I had charged anything for that one as an unknown author, it would probably still have garnered a few downloads from friends and family, but would not have received anywhere near the same level of exposure... and as an unknown author, I needed exposure.

Now, if “We Don’t Plummet” had been the one story that I really wanted to write, and if I had thrown it up on Smashwords and racked up impressive download numbers, and if ~brb had still included the story in STUPEFYING STORIES, then I would certainly be doing a lot of self-congratulatory back-patting! Where would I go from there, though? You can’t build a career on one story. You can’t even pay the light bill on a single story, if you give the story away for free.

Writing a quick 50k words just so I can give it away isn’t me, either.

A final portion of those who complete NaNoWriMo will take the finished manuscript, and submit it to an honest-to-goodness publishing house. Lightning may strike, but more likely they will gather a few rejection letters. The largest segment of the remainder will become discouraged after a few of those, even if the letters weren’t meant to be discouraging.

Realistically, I am going to submit whatever I finish, somewhere. But here is where my approach diverges from NaNoWriMo: I don’t necessarily believe it is essential to sink all of this month’s creativity into a single, unified work. Since I began my NaNo entry, I’ve also started two short stories, or what I presume will be short stories once they are completed.

By the end of the month, I will have finished at least one new piece, and possibly more, even if the words don’t count on my NaNoWriMo total. Whatever I have finished will be added to my submission queue. Whatever I haven’t finished by the end of the month will continue to receive work, and effort, and will eventually be completed.

A few more short story sales will put me in a much better position for selling the novels I will write... but a novel is a big thing, and a larger investment for a publisher. Short stories are a sort of proving ground, and a way of building the market in advance of that investment. Any story can be stretched out, so that it fills a few hundred pages. There is something fascinating about distilling the essence down to a more potent (and possibly more marketable) measure.

The point is that the most important story in my career can’t simply be the one, impressive beginning I wrote months ago, or the single, coherent narrative that I could spin on a thirty day deadline; to succeed as an author, it has to continually be the piece of writing that fascinates me right now, because that is the one I have the best chance of selling.

What do you like about NaNo?

I enjoy seeing the progress my friends are making! I know that NaNoWriMo doesn’t necessarily mean the same thing to me that it does to them, but that doesn’t keep me from applauding their achievement, or getting excited when I see that one of them managed to crank out a few thousand words the day before.

How do you compete in NaNo and not lose your mind?

Look, I am a thirty-six year old stay-at-home father, with a beautiful four year old daughter and a happy marriage, whose fondest desire has always been to be a successful science fiction author. By definition, I think that means I lost my mind somewhere in early adolescence.

From a practical standpoint, I am not competing in the traditional sense. I know I’ll achieve more than 50,000 words of new writing this month, because by the end of the next question, this interview will stretch to over 1900 words. That easily puts me above the daily minimum to reach a 50k goal, and this interview isn’t the only thing I’ve typed today... nor will it be.

A better question would be, “How do I compete with every other professional writer aiming for those few available slots in the genre magazines, on a monthly basis, and not lose my mind?”

My wife and daughter are incredibly supportive, and their belief in me, as a writer, keeps me going. I love what I do, and I am effectively living my dream... and as we already established, I lost my mind several decades ago.

Anything else for the hobbitses (and hirsute elves)?

If you want to be published, begin submitting your work. If you don’t, you won’t be.
Aim high. No hunter ever put meat on the ground by blasting holes in the dirt.

There is a market for every story, and a story for every market... so understand your markets, and make each submission count. Sending high fantasy to Analog is a waste of postage. So is sending post-apocalyptic military science fiction to The New Yorker.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Open Mic Saturday

Good 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?


Davey Dickson
Monosyllabic Memorial

Crossing the hall, I head for my old room. It's been months since I've lived here, and nothing has been moved in my absence. I glance hurriedly behind me before opening the door. Upon entering my room, I throw down my bag on the bed and go to the window. From here I can see the empty street below. Reassured, I turn to face the room and pace its length, deep in thought. I sigh and drop myself onto the bed, exhausted. My impact on the mattress causes my bag to slide off the sheets and onto the floor.

I close my eyes in a moment of deserved respite. I perk up instantly as I hear a noise. Despite my sudden energy, I have not enough to get up, as I have not slept in days. A creak comes from the closet opposite me. As the door is pushed open, I see him. He is an assassin, vigilante, rogue, killer, and defiler. He answers to no one, and has given up his humanity; he lives by brutality.

As he comes towards me, one word escapes his mouth. One word that tells what he lives for; why he came. One word: illustrating the growing need of a world in crisis. One word to show the end result of my life; the only importance I am to the world and to him. One word definitive of all the effects I have had on the world. One word stating all I am to him, and to most in this unsympathetic world where I find my fate. One word: synonymous with both addiction and survival. One word: the connection between the two separate groups still in this world. One word by which I die.


Story-a-Day is an attempt to bring a small bit of humor and amusement to Mrs. ~brb and Audrey as they fight very serious illnesses. If you have a short, amusing story, please send it to kersley.fitz at yahoo dot com. If you'd prefer, you can drop it in the drop.io (password: challenge) and email me to let me know it's there.

Friday, November 12, 2010




Round 1...


And their off! Well not really. This is my first attempt at NaNoWriMo... and so far it’s going rather poorly. But I'll get to that in a moment.

I discovered NaNo much the same as I discovered TFC, randomly on the Internet. At the start of last year I decided that was going get more serious about my writing, because I was just having too much fun with it. I spent a long time sifting through the crud that is out there, and there is a LOT of crud on them Interwebs I tells ya. But I did stumble upon the NaNo site, and it instantly sparked something in me.

I recall when I was about 11 years old I said I was going to write a novel. So I sat down in my mother’s desk in the study* and began to write... After a few hours I had completed my first page. It was milestone I tell you**. It was also as far as that 'novel' went, but I have still always wanted to write. Although most of my teenage years and early twenties I did no writing, because I was having too much fun channelling my angst in other, less productive ways. But none the less, two years into my degree I discovered my love for writing again. I believe this was because there was such a large volume of forced writing going on, and I was constantly getting badgered for being too fancy with my essays.

Apparently political science essays need to be dry and analytical.

So when I found NaNo I thought, yes. I will do this. Unfortunately I did not get a chance to participate in 2009 as I was still studying and there was just not the time. But this is year is (should be) my chance, and now work is chewing up my time.

Now, to my story. The story that I am working on is actually an entry from TFC. Although the names of the characters have been modified to protect the innocent, here is the original submission. The story is about a young journalist who is trying to make it somewhere in world, and he's not getting far. Mainly because he is constantly given horribly boring stories to follow up and write about. But when he goes to Hawker, a small town in the Flinders Ranges, he uncovers something bigger than just a story. People have been disappearing in Hawke. The young journalist is lead on journey through the history of the area and the local Aboriginal Dreamtime. He discovers a secret that some of locals have kept since the town was established. The Akurra, a type of rainbow serpent, is not just a Dreamtime story but it is all too real. The town is divided and so is our hero.

I chose this story because it’s something that I want to write, basically. The Flinders Ranges is an amazing place. I have spent my life going there for camping trips and hunting trips and relaxing holidays. Climbing the peaks, crawling through the gullies, shooting, working as farm hand, underage drinking in the local pub and just spending time with friends and family. It’s a place I would love to share with the world. Also the people of that area are great, and everybody should know, or at least meet people like them. I think it’s a common trait you find with farmers and other people that live in outback Australia. Life is slow, they talk slow, and they drive really fast. Also, pub gossip is probably the best thing about country living. You can find out almost everything you want to and don’t want know about anyone and anything at the local pub. Everyone goes there and everyone talks. I really want to get that across with my writing too.

I would love to finish this novel, and I believe I will. Unfortunately I will not get anywhere near it during NaNo. This November just happens to be the busiest November of my life. I am attending a buck’s show, a work Christmas party, a wedding, and an engagement party; that’s a large event for every weekend. Not to mention summer is beginning here and everybody wants to spend their money, which evidently means I am busy at work. These are however the uncontrollable facts which are hindering me. There are many things I could have done to help myself, alas... I did not do them. Because as this is my first attempt I also didn’t realise the immense scale of this venture, and did no real planning. So I was behind the ball from the start, because for me planning is a must. Why I thought I could do this differently to everything else I write, I don’t know. While I will not finish in November will press on and spend what time a can on it.

NaNo is a great idea. The sense of community that I have discovered in my town is amazing. There are 684 people that have registered in my city and all of them have been great. The mIRC chat room that they set up is a great way to waste time, and there are weekly emails from a number of the members. They are also doing weekly Write-In’s where everybody gets together for food, drink and write. It’s great. I also just like the motivation it gives you. I believe next year will be far more fruitful for me. As will know what to expect and will most likely do some sort of planning and even maybe... just maybe... think about it before the 1st of November.

That is about all I have to say on NaNo for now. I will do a report at the end let everyone know how it goes. If it goes.

So far, all I can say is a little bit of planning goes a long way and... Just keep writing.

*The term study is used very lightly. It was basically just a very small left over room that had a desk, two book cases and everything else that had to be kept and wouldn’t look nice anywhere else.

** It was a Warhammer 40k fan fiction story about Space Marines... Yeah...

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Critical Thinking

The Babysitter’s dad likes to pretend he’s not handy. I’m not sure why. He is handy, and he’s perfectly willing to help with a home-remodel or landscaping, but he doesn’t like to be in charge of the operation. To date, I’ve helped his oldest daughter build a cardboard boat, helped his wife assemble her new flatscreen TV stand, and realigned the drawers of The Babysitter’s new desk when he and another friend put it together and found the drawers didn’t push in all the way.

It was when I was assembling The Babysitter’s new platform bed that I saw her library. On the shelf was a book I’d heard a lot about but had never read: Alice Sebold’s The Lovely Bones. I asked if I could borrow it. She said yes, but it wasn’t very good. So I took it, and it sat on my fireplace mantel for a month.

A week ago, I finally started reading it. Half way through, I told Maj Tom I wasn’t too impressed. Now that I’ve finished, I can say that as far as I’m concerned, it deserves the hype.

You probably already know the storyline: in 1973, fourteen year old Susie is raped and murdered on her way home from school. Over the ensuing decade, she watches from heaven as her family and friends come to terms with her violent removal from their lives. It’s not a thriller, bent on revenge and excessive tension. It’s just about people taking the long, slow journey of adapting to a new world that isn’t quite as good as the one they left behind.

Obviously, the story has the potential to be a big, sticky pile of emotional angst. Fortunately, the writing keeps it from being so. Alice Sebold utilizes two very clever literary tricks to keep the story moving without letting the reader, or the characters, drown in misery.

The first I noticed was pacing. Intense, emotional scenes are cleverly and frequently interrupted with little back-stories or switches to another storyline. You don’t get claustrophobic in any given scene. A moment of horror is segued into a story about a hat with bells knitted into it or an explanation of a character’s relationship with a broken teacup. The little distractions not only relieve tension, they also give context to the actions and feelings of the characters.

All these little cut-aways would be distracting and disorienting if not for the second trick: Susie narrates the entire story from “her heaven.” This keeps the voice very even despite the ever-changing parade of focal characters.

It also allows us the benefit of an omniscient narrator. Susie knows the thoughts of the people she watches over. She knows what memories influence their actions, and their real feelings toward what’s going on around them. In order to gain this much insight in a normal novel, you’d have to deal with about twelve different POVs in very rapid succession.

Susie, safe in her heaven where she shares a duplex with a saxophone-playing Asian girl and gets to play with a pack of dogs every night, also manages to relate those reactions without judgment and without the complete emotional weight that the characters feel. I think this is the most important trick in the writing. We get to see her mother’s anchorlessness and her father’s all-encompassing grief, again, without drowning in it. That makes it easier to track their progression through the years, feel the subtle texture instead of being hit over the head with a few overly-intense scenes.

I was trying to figure out how this could relate to a sci fi novel, when the answer became obvious: have your narrator be your ship’s computer. (And now I’m getting a picture of the new novel of the millennium: My Life with the Smegheads by Holly.) You can make it as sentient as you like to get the desired emotional depth in your narration, but its position as a computer would substitute nicely for Susie’s safe, untouchable situation in heaven.

And your story need not be an over-arching tale of emotional healing and family dynamics. It could be the political evolution of a colony or the mental breakdown of the crew of a generation ship. Anything with several different characters, an intense situation that you want to keep from sinking into quicksand, and a broad storyline that encompasses a long time period.

Currently on the nightstand: Mary Roach’s Packing for Mars. Or: Astronauts: Cool Adventurers or Psychologically-Traumatized Handymen?

Kersley Fitzgerald doesn't care. She'd go to Mars, anyway.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Ultimate Geek Fu

The Walking Dead

My thoughts on this new show were requested, so I Hulu'd the first episode this evening.

Let me get the good stuff out of the way:

Yes, it is entertaining and I will likely follow the show.

Yes, it is fairly hardcore. Not as gut wrenchingly nasty as a modern zombie flick. But as far as the need for keeping children away, assume that if you wouldn't have them watching the original "Dawn of the Dead" than this one should be skipped as well. (The original, the recent remake is far and away nastier than this show.)

No, it is not following the standard formula of a zombie film. By this I am not talking about the zombies themselves, which are very Romero-esque in the sense that they are:

A) Legitimately dead, not diseased, rabid, under some form of mind control, or any other dodge that recent films have used to insert some small amount of realism. I suspect that they will try to come up with some reason to explain things eventually, but based on what I have seen thus far the walking dead in the show are true, honest to god, dead-brought-back-to-life grade A zombies.

B) Slow and clumsy. The standard Romero style zombie has what has become the stereotypical zombie lurching shuffle as they walk and are barely capable of using very simple tools, such as bludgeons or perhaps trying a doorknob.

C) Infectious. The show has not yet defined whether or not a zombie bite or other fluid exchange is actually required to join team dead upon a character shuffling the mortal coil, but it has definitively established by way of exposition that becoming infected by one through bite, scratch, or other contact is a one way ticket to cannibalism lane.

No, the way in which it is differing from the established formula is exactly the ways in which one would expect it to as a serialized media is not the same as a movie. The writers are taking a few fairly obvious shortcuts to hook the largest demographic possible. The most painfully expected one of course being the screwed up love interest, which I have no doubt will end up climaxing into something ridiculously overwrought and pointless somewhere between the middle and end of the first season. I hope I am wrong, really I do. But I don't think I will be. They are attempting to remove the obvious stereotyping in the characters and are generally not doing too bad of a job. But I find myself already concerned that in an effort to save money later in the season they will have ridiculous amounts of screen time dedicated to these characters in very soap opera style situations rather than the aspect that I find more entertaining, the "Surviving the Zombie Apocalypse" angle.

All in all I have many specific quibbles and concerns, but am impressed enough to want to continue watching. For whatever than might be worth to you all.

All that said, Now time for the spoilers.


OK. I understand WHY they did it. But the outright theft from "28 days later" of the concept of the main character missing the initial outbreak by being laid up in a hospital room shows an incredible lack of imagination. I am more than a little disgusted by this. Did it work? Sure. It worked better the first time when I hadn't already seen it, but it worked.

The main character seems to have been sucking the sweet tit of denial for the first quarter or more of this thing. After all of the damage, all of the dead, and after seeing a woman that has literally been torn in half and then rotted to the point that ribs are visible still is crawling after him with intent to bite he STILL doesn't seem to get the idea that something is more off kilter than just a few dead people. He then has the balls to give the first living adult human he finds a hard time for shooting a "Walker" in the street. Granted, he backs off in fairly short order. But the fact that he even felt the need to question it utterly baffles me. When there is that much dead in the street and some guy takes you in, changes your dressings, and FEEDS YOU, cutting the man a break and assuming he knows what he is doing MIGHT be the best option. Just saying.

The feel of the show is good, even though almost all of the things here have been done before and better. One thing that they did that I approved of from a storytelling standpoint is the show opens with him looking for fuel and coming across a child zombie which he is then forced to shoot. The fact that they opened up this show by killing by way of a bullet to the brain pan what looked to be about a ten year old girl makes me think that they won't be pulling a lot of punches on the action. I mean, when you start with the bar set on killing children it isn't like you can't throw in the occasional action packed zombie frag fest without ever encroaching on that level again if you don't want to.

There is a scene in the hospital that he wakes up in that is particularly good. Remember, he knows nothing of what has happened. He knows the hospital is pretty trashed though, and he has seen one corpse. He comes across a set of double doors that are chained shut with the words "DON'T OPEN, DEAD INSIDE" on them in spray paint. At first I thought it was just going to be standard mood enhancing graffiti type stuff. The same thing they put in every zombie film. And then the doors start to rattle while he watches. Grayish fingers find their way to the crack between the two doors and you can see the look of horror on his face as he realizes that he really doesn't know what is going on, but that he doesn't want to find out. The scene would have been more powerful without the kid killing at the opening. Showing just the fingers and having not already seen a sample of the enemy would have gone farther. But since I did like the opening as well, I guess that was a gamble they took that paid off, at least for me.

In the closing scene this idiot actually makes his way to Atlanta Georgia and has the incredible lack of common sense required to enter it on a horse. (Yes, horses are great, but in a city full of millions of dead things they are little more than a larger snack.) He finds himself hopelessly surrounded and taking refuge in a tank left behind by the military's effort to regain control of the situation. He loses his horse in a move by the director that will no doubt make staunch members of PETA cry into their pillows for a month, and the last moments of the show have this ass clown stuck in a giant tin can that is covered by the dead.

Is it a powerful scene? Yes. Yes it was. Not sure why they didn't just end it there and pick up in episode two. But no, they had one more trick to pull. The radio in the tank crackles to life and some observant individual, probably from one of the skyscrapers, starts belittling our "hero" and his plight. Honestly, the fact that there was somebody else there sucked away into the void most of the sense of desperation they were trying to illicit with the scene. I think including it in the first episode was a terrible idea. /shrug. But then, I don't make tv shows. So I won't claim expert status with it.

Again, all in all a good show. I will keep watching it until it begins to disappoint me.

Datatroll is an equaintance of Kersley's and an aspiring sci fi writer. He opines on his LiveJournal blog. ULTIMAGE GEEK FU runs every Wednesday (except when it doesn't). Have a question that's just bugging the heck out of you about Star Wars, Star Trek, Stargate, Star This, Star That, Star Whatever, The Starlost, Battlestar Galactica, Farscape, Firefly, Fringe, Heroes, The Sarah Connor Chronicles, Smallville, True Blood, The X-Files, The X-Men, The Man From Atlantis, or pretty much any other SF- or fantasy-flavored media property? Send it to slushpile@thefridaychallenge.com with the subject line, "Geek Fu," and we'll stuff it in the queue.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010


November is National Novel Writing Month. We have several regulars who are participating, and I thought I'd interview them about their efforts. Here's the first installment by Al Davis.

Is this your first NaNo? How many have you done? How many have you won?

This is my SIXTH Nano, after five miserable failures...see my Friday Challenge article "Glutton for Punishment" last year for full details. And note that those five failures so far total nearly a hundred thousand words of partially completed stories...words that never would have made it out of my brain were it not for Nano.

So, "miserable failure" is a relative term with a big chunk of partial success in it.

How did you first learn about NaNo?

My then-girlfriend. She had done it before we met, and suggested I would like it; she was right, I was hooked. On Nano...and on her...I married her a year or two later.

What's your story about for this NaNo?

This year? "Bloodmage." Call it "Elf Noir." Drunk down-and-out private detective, hired to find missing girl, with no clue what he's getting himself into, as he starts getting warned off the case by a Bloodmage and attacked by manticores and dragons and stuff out of a Hellboy-esque nightmare...

How did you come up with that story?

Two weeks before Nov 1, I had this thought...fairy-tale rip-off. Princess trapped in a curse or cage, and the only person who could unlock it was her true love. Well...what if that true love was the kid she fell for when she was 15 in high school, and daddy disapproved, and not only split them apart but wiped their memories to boot...? That would mean no one could rescue her, and the detective was on this grand and glorious quest for his one true love while thinking he was getting paid for a simple case...

...and that idea started defining the character of the detective. With that chunk forcefully removed from his life, he's in his forties, drunk, with two failed marriages under his belt and no drive or determination to get anywhere...and all the clues to the girl's whereabouts strangely seem to turn back around towards himself...

Do you intend to finish the novel, or are you using it more as an exercise?

...who ever starts a Nano without intending to finish it...? *grin*

What do you like about NaNo?

Nano is my excuse to give myself writing time. Normally I make excuses to NOT write...too busy, this has higher priority, that needs done, "First Rule"...Nano gives me a reason to boost my writing's priority up nearer the top of the scale.

Also...it hopefully drives home the "write something every day" habit that I need. I try to carry it on through the rest of the year, but other stuff always seems to interfere...

How do you compete in NaNo and not lose your mind?

Um...dunno, I think it's already lost.

Anything else for the hobbitses (and hirsute elves)?

Don't give up. Every word in your Nano is a word that might never have made it to paper otherwise.

I missed last year. I "failed."

But...I have a 45k word novella rough draft, with a couple of really funny scenes and a couple of really intense fight scenes, a half dozen well-fleshed out characters, a couple of concepts that could do well standing on their own, and even if this novel never went anywhere, a world in which to place more stories mapped out in my head.

Not only did I write a 45k novella in a month...there were twelve days during that month that I didn't get a single word out, because I was too stressed out over the broken-down car--and the likely loss of my job because of it--to focus on Nano. So, to put it in even more perspective, I wrote two halves of a 45k novella in a little over a week each, with nearly a two week break between the two.

...if that's a "failure" then I'll happily accept a few more of them, because it proves I really can write when I set my mind to it.

So can you.


Monday, November 8, 2010

Ruminations of an Old Goat

Just over three weeks ago, I had a storytelling performance at a Halloween festival (my third year in a row at the festival). I generally use the money earned from such performances for our monthly bills. Just four days after the performance, though, I found myself in need of something to keep me from dwelling on my wife's extended hospital stay. Being a guy, I used my storytelling earnings to buy a new gadget. Specifically, I bought a Kindle e-reader at a local Target. This is my review of the Kindle.

I bought the least expensive of the Kindle models. It connects to WiFi but doesn't have the 3G connectivity which allows owners to access amazon.com at any time. That's more connectivity than I need, especially with all the WiFi hot spots to be found here in Raleigh, including the one in my own house. All of the reviews I've read concerning the Kindle recommended buying some kind of cover as protection in case the unit is dropped. I went ahead and bought a leather cover also distributed by amazon.com. The cover is simple but does what it's designed to do. All told, I put about $170 into the purchase.

The unit leads you through basic setup the first time you turn it on. It's incredibly easy to do and not worth spending any time discussing. Instead, let me tell you why I chose the Kindle over the Barnes & Noble Nook.

Both readers have similar sized screens but differ in how those screens are navigated, with the Nook having a color touch screen for the user interface. The Kindle does everything on the e-ink screen, using a simple four-direction control with an activation button in the center. I tried the Nook at Barnes & Noble and found the interface to be less than intuitive. It wasn't impossible to figure out, but it certainly could have been easier. Conversely, I was easily able to figure out the basic user interface for the Kindle without instructions. I'm sure the Nook would have become second nature to me had I gotten one, but it definitely has a higher learning curve.

Both devices use e-ink displays that are supposed to simulate the look of a page printed on paper. It works very well. The Kindle uses newer e-ink technology and has darker, better looking display. This wasn't a huge telling point, either, as the Nook's screen is easy to read. I just found the Kindle's screen even easier to read.

What was the real deciding point for me was the speed with which the two devices displayed a new page. On both devices, you simply press a button to display the next page. The buttons on both devices are well positioned and the motion to push the button quickly becomes as natural as the motion to turn an actual page in a book. The button scores an advantage over paper since e-ink pages never stick together, causing you to turn more than one page at a time. Conversely, it's entirely possible to accidentally hit the button to turn the page on either device. I've never accidentally turned a paper page in my entire reading life. The Kindle scores over the Nook because the new page displays much more quickly on the Kindle. The Kindle displays the new page about twice as fast as the Nook. It doesn't seem like much, but the extra bit of time waiting for the Nook can take you right out of the story you're reading. The Kindle changes the page at least as fast as I could turning a page in a printed book.

One advantage touted for the Nook over the Kindle is the number of book formats it supports, including the epub format. It's true, the Kindle doesn't support epub. Despite that, I've got several books on my Kindle that originally came in epub format. With only a little bit of looking online, I discovered Calibre, an open-source ebook management application which includes functionality to convert ebook files from one format to another. The software is also designed to help manage the books on whatever ereader you own. It's free, incredibly easy to use, and the first thing you should get after getting any of the popular ereaders.

Truth to tell, I had over 200 ebooks on my Kindle without paying a dime for any of them. Between the Baen Free Library and the Project Guttenberg, I had no trouble finding lots of material to put on the device. (Baen also has a large selection of ebooks you can purchase, including books by authors whose work isn't so easy to find in print these days.) Project Guttenberg has added Kindle formatted versions of the books found on the site (or, at least, all of the books I downloaded from the site). For example, I was able to put 25 books by Edgar Rice Burroughs, including the first five Mars books and the first several Tarzan books, on my Kindle for free. And they were all formatted for the Kindle, so I didn't even have to convert them.

It's worth noting that amazon.com will convert files to Kindle format, too. When you setup your Kindle, an email address is created for the Kindle. Any file sent to that email address will be converted to Kindle format and automatically sent to your Kindle via WiFi. There's no charge for this service (though there may be a charge if you have the 3G version and use the 3G network). You can even send PDFs to your Kindle this way. Include the word "convert" in the subject and the PDF will be converted to work with the Kindle. This works fairly well, though is far from perfect. You can also simply load a PDF directly onto the Kindle and attempt to read it that way, zooming in on the screen to make it large enough to read. I've fiddled with that approach and found it to be far too, well, fiddly. I was always having to adjust the display to see everything, wasting time which could have been spent reading. Honestly, if you're primary goal is to read PDFs on an electronic device, suck it up and buy an iPad. Neither the Kindle nor the Nook is going to be really good at this.

Okay, enough about what the Kindle can and can't do. The big question is, what's it like reading from it? Simply put, it's just like reading a book except I push a button to change pages instead of turning a page. Oh, and there's no book smell, which can be a good thing if the book has a mildew odor or has absorbed smoke odor from being in the house of a smoker. In all the import elements, though, the Kindle completely simulates a book.

Someone reading this bound to be thinking, "Yeah, but I can read all those ebooks on my computer without spending money on an ereader!" That's absolutely correct. No doubt about it. And if you don't mind reading books while sitting at your computer, don't buy an ereader. Personally, I hate reading books on my computer. I spend enough time in front of the computer each day. I don't want to have to read there, too. Besides, I can take the Kindle anywhere and read it at any time. A single charge lasts for weeks (I've recharged my Kindle once since buying it), something you can't claim about even the most energy efficient laptop or netbook. The Kindle also doesn't build up heat. My laptop and my netbook both get really hot after only an hour or so of use. The Apple iPad also builds up heat, I've heard, so it doesn't really score much over the netbook or laptop.

Is the Kindle -- or any ereader -- for you? That's a question you're going to have to answer for yourself.

If you're the kind of person who loves reading older works such as the ebooks available from Project Guttenberg, and don't like reading books on your computer, you should seriously consider an ereader. The cost of the ereader pales compared to the buying even used versions of those books. Instead of waiting for the local used bookstore to get copies of books from Edgar Rice Burroughs or Rudyard Kipling or Robert Louis Stevenson, just grab the books from Project Guttenberg and start reading.

If you're the kind of person who buys books and never gets rid of them, an ereader could save you a lot in the way of storage space. The books aren't much less expensive in electronic format than in paper format, but the Kindle can hold over 3000 books at one time. That's a lot of bookshelves you don't have to buy. It is harder to loan a book to a friend, though families can put several devices on the same account, allowing everyone to read the same book at the same time. (Most ebooks appear to allow the book to be on more than one reader at the same time.)

If you're the kind of person who does lots of trading at used bookstores, well, I don't see much of a second-hand market for ebooks coming along any time soon (if ever).

In the end, I can only speak for myself. I love my Kindle.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Open Mic Saturday

Good 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?


A Conversation with Barry Gibb

“I want to tell you a story, man.”


“A story. I want to tell you a story.”

“Umm, Ok.”

I leaned back on my in-flight pillow with an eye in this fellow’s direction. He spoke to me as if he knew me, confident that I, or anyone who happened to be sitting in this seat, would certainly want to hear what he had to say. He must have been someone of some importance, I concluded, for only a man with a history of success and authority could wear that hair and moustache.
I acknowledged with a nod that I was indeed listening and that he should go ahead with what ever it was he wanted to tell me.

“How old are you?” He asked.


“Have you ever been close to death?”

I shrugged. “I suppose...”

“I mean really looked it in the face, you know?”

“I’m not sure.”

He adjusted himself comfortably in his seat and took a sip of his rum and coke.

“Riding on this aeroplane today is making me a bit nostalgic, I think. When I was a boy, my brothers and I loved music. My father had some money and was going to help record and promote us as a musical group. At the time, my brothers were with him in Australia and my father sent for me in London. I was to take his company plane to meet them in Sydney. Well, off the coast of New Zealand, the plane went down. Crashed. There we were, floating in this little silver tube in the ocean. I thought the pilot was dead. I tried to revive him, but keep in mind I was only twelve years old. Maybe he was dead, maybe he wasn’t. I’ll never know. When the plane started to sink, all I could think of was that I had to stay alive. Just stay alive.

“I knew enough to get the life raft, expand it, and get some rations. I got it all into the little boat and watched the aeroplane sink, right before my eyes. It was the craziest thing I’ve ever seen. I then floated for several days, thinking the pilot must have told them where we went down. I rationed my food and water but no one came and I just told myself, you have to stay alive, man. Just stay alive.

“Well, I came upon an island. I know it was an island because I walked around it several times before I realized I was going circles. I went towards the middle of it to try and find some food. I did find water and some fruit. I built myself a shelter and had some supper and on that first night, I lay on the sand and knew I had to stay alive...”

I put up my hand to stop him. “Ok. Hold on. This is amazing. Did this really happen?”

He laughed a spastic, girly chuckle, like a dog trying to bark with its snout taped shut.

“No, man. It was this really long, crazy mind trip I had in ’77. I used it in a song, though.”

Story-a-Day is an attempt to bring a small bit of humor and amusement to Mrs. ~brb and Audrey as they fight very serious illnesses. If you have a short, amusing story, please send it to kersley.fitz at yahoo dot com. If you'd prefer, you can drop it in the drop.io (password: challenge) and email me to let me know it's there.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Friday Challenger Makes a Professional Sale!

Yesterday, M sold "Absinthe Fish" (a story that none of the Friday Challengers have yet seen!) to BULL SPEC magazine. The editor, Samuel Montgomery-Blinn, said that the story is "tentatively slated for issue #5," which will—at the current pace—be the Spring 2011 issue.

BULL SPEC is a relatively new genre market, but since it has been paying professional rates from the very beginning, and averages a combined print and download circulation of a thousand copies per issue, it should retroactively qualify as a SFWA-approved professional market by Spring of 2011, when the magazine celebrates its first anniversary.


Arisia has a horribly frightful story about an evil door on her blog. There's even pictures!

Story-a-Day is an attempt to bring a small bit of humor and amusement to Mrs. ~brb and Audrey as they fight very serious illnesses. If you have a short, amusing story, please send it to kersley.fitz at yahoo dot com. If you'd prefer, you can drop it in the drop.io (password: challenge) and email me to let me know it's there.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Ultimate Geek Fu

Song Covers
Sean Thomas

Today I’d like to discuss the topic of musical covers. For those not hip to the lingo, a cover is when a person or band records a version of a previously published song. The cover song can be a blessing or a curse for the listener and/or the artist. For some artists, the cover defines their careers. Their choice of a cover to introduce them to the world becomes the mountain they can never climb over. (See “Locomotion” from Kylie Minogue and “I Think We’re Alone Now” by Tiffany). Of course there is the possibility that was the plan all along and the goal was to cash in using a song that someone already wrote in order to minimize use of any creative muscle. Often time’s bands will put out cover albums in order to fulfill some sort of contractual obligation. These albums rarely do anything but give hard core fans something new to listen to from their favorite groups. Artistically they tend to be pretty weak. One particular example is how Guns N Roses faded into oblivion with their cover of favorite punk tunes on “The Spaghetti Incident?” This was a placeholder until Guns N Roses could fulfill the promise of greatness that was the Use Your Illusion album. That promise never came and as fans we are stuck with a cd full of covers of bands that most of us never heard of and nothing so inspiring that would cause the average person to expand their horizons. The truth is that for the most part cover albums are cheap and easy to knock out. Some labels like Cleopatra have made a cottage industry out of putting compilations of covers performed by artists on their roster.

The main problem is how the artists approach the cover. They usually go in one of two directions. They stay so faithful to the original that they bring nothing new to the song. (See “Lady Marmalade” by some diva supergroup thingy). Why waste your time and effort on a poor imitation? The other way is that they try so hard to put their imprint on the song that they create something so sacrilegious to the original that much wailing and gnashing of teeth ensues. (See Madonna’s metaphorical pooping on Don McLean’s patriotically painted thumb by bastardizing “American Pie”). Every once in a while, though a cover transcends the original or at least brings something so unique to the table that it deserves to sit alongside the original. Possibly the best example of this is Jimi Hendrix’s cover of “All Along The Watchtower”. Most people don’t realize that this is a cover of a Bob Dylan tune. In reaction to hearing the Hendrix cover of his song, Dylan has said: “It overwhelmed me, really.” Dylan has also stated “Strange how when I sing it, I always feel it's a tribute to him in some kind of way." Hendrix had taken this Dylan tune and had turned it into his own. A good cover has the ability to do that.

I now give you a list of five covers that I feel are every bit as awesome as the original

Jane’s Addiction’s cover of “Sympathy For The Devil” originally by The Rolling Stones

This song was on Jane’s Addiction’s live album that was put out before their major label debut. The band creates a moody atmosphere with subdued acoustic strings and percussion. This sets the tone for what makes this version so special: Perry Farrel’s vocals. When Mick Jagger crooned his version, it was full of raw in your face sexuality and machismo proudly declaring his dark deeds as the deceiver of the world. In this version, Perry Farrel’s voice is much more subdued, taking on the character of the serpent in the Garden of Eden going the route of deception over confrontation. I find this version much more convincing.

Furnace “Hey You” originally by Pink Floyd.

This was from one of Cleopatra’s many cover compilations. I bought this because I love Pink Floyd and I was big into industrial music at the time. I’m not sure what my expectations were at the time, but pretty much the whole double album blew (yes there were two discs of terrible covers). The lone exception was this masterpiece by some band called Furnace that I’m not sure did anything other than this. I could do some research to find out, but it doesn’t matter because they could never top this. Floyd’s album the Wall is #1 on my desert island disc list. It is the album that turned me onto rock and roll and sent me on the musical journey that I have been on ever since, so I am serious when I dare to put this song side by side with the original. The song is about isolation and loneliness. It is a song longing for someone to come and save the listener. The sparseness of the electronics and the pounding beat of this version take the feelings of isolation to another level. This is truly a cover that understood the theme of the original and took it places that maybe it shouldn’t go. The despair that Roger Waters conceived is palpable here.

Dread Zeppelin “Immigrant Song” originally by Led Zeppelin

“Blasphemy” you say? How could anyone touch Zeppelin’s Magnum Opus of Viking adventure, bombastic guitars riffs, and Robert Plants unmistakable howling? What business does a reggae band with an Elvis impersonator as a front man have messing with the Godfathers of Metal? I can’t answer these questions, but I can tell you that Immigrant Song matches well with some funky booty shaking reggae. And it doesn’t seem that much of a stretch to go from Robert Plants primal scream to Tortelvis’s over the top impersonation of the King. Of course I might be a bit biased because I used to see Dread Zeppelin a couple of time a year in my single days. Hilarious show, but they backed it up with musical chops. You couldn’t make Immigrant song so funky if you don’t have the musical ability to make it happen. And Dread has it in spades.

The Jimi Hendrix Experience “Sunshine of Your Love” originally by Cream

“Sunshine of your love” blew my mind the first time I heard it. My only real experience with Eric Clapton was “Tears in Heaven”. I had no idea why he was “God”. Being exposed to Cream and Derek and the Dominoes has helped me to understand why people thought Clapton was the “Cream” of the crop. “Sunshine” blew my mind because it was so heavy. My experience with oldies was the fluff that my parents listened to on Kool 94.5. I had no idea that this type of Rock was going on at the same time the Supremes were singing about their guy. Why is the Hendrix cover on here? It’s because The Experience takes it to an even heavier plane of existence. I must mention that there are different versions of this cover. I am specifically talking about the version on Live at Winterland. Jimi literally makes his guitar sing. There are no vocals. Hendrix’s wailing guitar takes the place of the vocals. The only dark surprise in this song is how freakin’ awesome it is.

Elvis Presley “Hound Dog” originally by Willie Mae “Big Mama” Thorton

How could we not include the King and a song that helped start a revolution? This revolution wasn’t bloody, but hip gyratingly fantastic. The King took a slow burning bluesy take on a no good scoundrel and turned it into a rockin tune about something diffent, not sure what other than flippin’ awesom. His hip shaking performance on the Milton Berle show caused the Old Bitty Committee to launch a campaign to ban the Kings special brand of Rock and Roll fury. Sorry Ladies, but that train had already left the tunnel and was barreling down the track to lead us all to the land of Rock and Roll. Even fifty years later the King’s charisma still seeps from the ol TFT display when you watch the video. Sorry Big Mama, but this song belongs to the King of Rock and Roll.

What are some of your favorite or most hated covers?

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


Well Still Still Well
by miko

All was not well with the well that was all
the way down at the foot of the hill;
For into the drink had fallen a drunk
who kept drinking to get his full fill.
Strange this might sound, though not to the stranger,
who resounded with joy at his plight:
Still in the dry hole did hide a whole still
filled with hooch, to his hapless delight.

[Wishing wellness for Mrs. ~brb and Mrs. Henry]

Story-a-Day is an attempt to bring a small bit of humor and amusement to Mrs. ~brb and Audrey as they fight very serious illnesses. If you have a short, amusing story, please send it to kersley.fitz at yahoo dot com. If you'd prefer, you can drop it in the drop.io (password: challenge) and email me to let me know it's there.

(By the way, I'm out of stories. What do ya got?)
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