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Sunday, January 30, 2011

The Quest to Replace drop.io

Most editors are only interested in buying new, unpublished stories. For their purposes, any story that has been freely available on the web is generally considered to have been published. To allow writers to enter the Friday Challenge without unintentionally "publishing" their stories, we used a password protected site called drop.io for those who wished to enter challenges without making their story available to everyone on the web. Since drop.io was closed back in December, I've been trying to find a good substitute for it. Several of you have sent suggestions for sites to check out, something I greatly appreciate. There are a lot of different services designed for sharing files across the internet, so having some extra eyes to check sites out really helps.

The strength of drio.io was that anyone who knew the user password to the drop site could add files to it. The troika kept the administrator password among ourselves, restricting the people who could delete files from the site to the three of us. But anyone who visited the Friday Challenge could easily discover the user password to the drop site and add files there. Simplicity at its best.

So far, all of the potential replacement sites have been more restrictive. Drop Box is one of the ones recommended and I've checked it out. Once it's setup, it is easy to use, but it has some serious drawbacks. If there were a Friday Challenge drop box site, each of you would have to go through at least a couple of steps before being able to access the site.

First, you'd need to download the Drop Box software from the Drop Box site and install it. That is because Drop Box creates folders on your computer. That folder is a mirror of a folder hosted by Drop Box's servers. If you wanted to access Drop Box from more than one computer, say your work computer and your home computer, you'd have to install Drop Box in both places. You might also run into resistance from the IT department at work to the idea of having a folder on your computer shared out "to the cloud."

After installing the software, you'd have to ask the Friday Challenge Drop Box administrator to invite you to join that drop. This is a step that could seriously deter some people from ever using the drop and, perhaps, keep them from ever participating in the Friday Challenge. It's human nature for many of us to think something along the lines of "I'd like to enter, but I don't want to bother the admin. He's bound to be really busy!" No request. No entry. Lost Challenger.

Finally, the admin would have to invite those who requested access to the drop to join it. At the risk of making the last part of the previous paragraph true, there are days when the admin wouldn't have time to go to the drop and issue an invitation. Unfortunately, once real life gets in the way and delays the invitation, the admin may end up forgetting about it for days or even forget about it entirely.

In the end, it's not that Drop Box is particularly complicated, it's just that it's not nearly so simple and user friendly as drop.io. Unfortunately, all of the other drop sites I've found are either designed primarily for off-site backups and can't be shared or are similar in approach to Drop Box. If we were operating with a small, set group -- such as an online writing group with a fixed membership -- Drop Box might be just the thing. As the one of the strengths of the Friday Challenge is that it's open to all who wish to enter, Drop Box forms just enough of a barrier that it may end up discouraging new writers from ever entering.

I'd still love to hear about other options to replace drop.io, so please keep looking and sending suggestions.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

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?

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Critical Thinking: A Novel Idea

So, about four weeks ago, I brought what was to be the first section of my 3000-word telepathy story to writers’ group. They finished reading it and whatnot, and Ev turns to me.

“You have to write this as a novel.”

No I don’t. It’s a short story. I’m going to sell it to Analog or something for hundreds of dollars. I don’t have time for a novel that will never get published anyway and I’m not interested in writing.

I took it home and realized I didn’t like it. The ending was too romanticky. If romanticky is a word. So I started rewriting the middle. It came to 6000 words. And it wasn’t finished.

Fine. It’s a novelette or whatever.

I took the second half to writers’ group.

“This will make engineers cry!” KC said.

Huh? Whatev. Right now my writers’ group is composed of three Christian fantasy writers and me. Their experience with the secular SF industry is limited at best. (As if I’m such an expert.)

“You have to write it into a novel,” Ev said. “It’s perfect for this time. This is such a relevant issue right now.”

No I don’t. It’s a short story. I have three—THREE—half-novels that have been abandoned, waiting for me to pick them up again. I have a new job. I have a child who can’t figure out that lying is the thing you don’t do and homework is the thing you do. I have a husband who’s so busy he doesn’t have time to plan his retirement ceremony. I also have leadish-type-things in song this week and another next and an insane syncopated guitar part to get down. A guitar part that the worship leader refuses to write down because I should just “feel it.” (I swear I am not making this up.) Oh, and a bunch of Boy Scout things I need to actively ignore and another thing I’m just starting to get involved with that I’ll tell you about later.

Remember my New Year’s resolution? Yeah. Sorry, Ev. Turning this short story into a novel is one of those things I’m gonna have to go ahead and disappoint you on.

I took it home and finished it. A bit too sappy, but at least it wasn’t a romanticky. I took the last section to writers’ group.

The silence was deafening.

“Where’s the rest of it?” DK asked.

“There needs to be more,” Ev said.

“Don’t worry,” said KC. “Once you start thinking about it more, the plot will just fall into place.”

Whatever. What do they know about science fiction short stories? I’m just sayin’. None of them even write short stories. So there.

Just for kicks and giggles, I took my laptop to Panera this morning and decided to brainstorm. Forty-five minutes later, I emailed Ev.

I don't hate when you're right in general terms. I have no problem with you having deep insight into the world and come up with the correct answer. I just hate that you're right in this particular case. I'm tired. I thought I was done with this story. But, really, how can it be done when Brandon hasn't gone to the state institution and "rescued" by a Fagin-type character and forced to live on the streets and steal from normals who refuse to see him? And then...

But I guess you'll have to wait. That's your punishment.

She emailed back:

Aaaaaaahhhhhhh! Yes!!!

I’m glad you’ve come to your senses.

Big smile!

I emailed back:

I hate you.

No, I don’t hate you.

I hate you a little.

She emailed back:

I'm ok with that. ;)

She posted on her Facebook page:

I love it when someone realizes that I am right and have been right all along.

I hate her.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Ruminations of an Old Goat

Last week I started writing about evoking emotions, calling drama and sadness the easiest ones to evoke in a reader. Despite the ease with which a writer can evoke drama and sadness, as long as the writer does a halfway reasonable job evoking those emotions the reader will probably remember the emotions evoked longer than they may remember the plot of the story. That's just the way the world works; easy to evoke emotions can have a lasting effect on readers. Conversely, the hardest emotion to evoke is the one most easily dismissed by readers as something trivial.

What is this "hardest emotion to evoke" I'm referring to? What is so hard to write and so easy for readers to dismiss? Humor is the answer.

Why is humor so hard to write? Let's see, humor is variable. What one person finds funny, another person may simply find tasteless. Humor is situational. Humor must be carefully setup; characters must be portrayed so the humor is in character, the scene must be set so the humor is appropriate. Humor is topical. Not all humor is topical, but many of the things we find funny are only funny because of something going on in our lives or in the news. (Anyone who saw the Woody Allen movie Sleeper when it was initially released in the early '70s and who later saw it again just four or five years later knows exactly what I'm writing about here. I found the movie hilarious when first released but painfully unfunny just five years later.) The worst thing about humor is that if the writer is just a bit off, it falls completely flat. And nothing is worse than an attempt at humor that just doesn't work.

Any reasonably good writer can write a funny line. To write a funny story or even a funny novel takes a lot of work. And even when the writer succeeds, some readers will have a different sense of humor and simply not find the work funny.

The worst thing about writing something funny, though, is that it is so easily dismissed. Everyone cracks jokes. Everyone manages to fire off one-liners every now and then. Besides, no matter how hard the writer works at being funny, they just evoke a laugh from their reader. It's not like a child has fallen in a swollen stream. No character is facing a life-changing situation. Humor doesn't even have to result in a change in the character (though really good humor will result in that). The reader reaches the humorous part, chuckles, and keeps on reading.

Laughing may be a primal response, but the things that cause us to laugh aren't usually primal. Readers may enjoy funny lines or funny stories, but in the end they're just have a quick laugh, nothing more.

Using movies as an example again, consider the parody movie Galaxy Quest compared to any of the (good) Star Trek movies. Let's pick Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home as our good Star Trek movie. It has drama and adventure and lots of good, primal evoking going on. It's even got just the right touch of humor to go with the action. In comparison, Galaxy Quest has some funny adventure bits, tossed out some really good one-liners, but the common complaint among viewers is that the movie loses steam when the characters have to actually be the heroes they've been pretending to be. Which movie took more talent to write?

Obviously, I'm going to say Galaxy Quest. The timing of the humorous situations and the one-liners is perfect while also being absolutely faithful to the source material. I know a bunch of Trekkers (see, I didn't even call them Trekkies) who enjoyed Galaxy Quest but none of them consider it nearly as good a movie as any of the "real" Star Trek movies. They all agree Galaxy Quest was funny but that's about it. They got a laugh and had fun watching it, but that was all.

So, am I saying not to try to write funny stories? No, I'm just warning you to be prepared to have your stories dismissed as lightweight amusements. Yes, that's a generalization, but it's a pretty accurate generalization.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

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?

All of this is assuming you are able to escape the clutches of Otogu long enough to actually post something!

Friday, January 21, 2011

The Friday Challenge - 1/21/2011

The Friday Challenge is still overwhelmed by Otogu. More explanation to follow later.


Monday, January 17, 2011

Ruminations of an Old Goat

Over the last few weeks, several of the regulars here at the Friday Challenge, the Troika included, have written columns on why we write. A common theme through those columns was the desire, the need, to convey emotions to readers. It's certainly a desire you'll find in most writers. Given that, it seems like it would be a good idea to actually discuss conveying emotions successfully. I'm going to use popular movies for most of my examples simply because I suspect more of you will have seen the movies than will have read certain books.

There are a lot of emotions a writer can convey. Even a brief list of them could go on and on; humor, horror, excitement, drama, sadness, and happiness are among the most common. In this column I'm going to look at what I consider two of the truly easy emotions to convey -- drama and sadness, which tends to flow fairly naturally from drama.

Why do I consider those two emotions so easy to convey? They're easy to convey because they're easy to evoke. Imagine: The stream behind the house has swollen to raging torrent due to heavy rain. Little Johnny is missing. His older brother, Bill, was supposed to be watching him. But Bill let himself get caught up in a game of tag with his friends and took his eyes off of Little Johnny for just a minute. In that minute, Johnny ran around to the back of the house and hasn't been seen again. Johnny's footprints were found next to the stream. Did Johnny fall in the raging stream and get swept away? Has he drowned, stuck in a culvert, or is he even now hanging onto a tree root for dear life, hoping his big brother will save him.

A child is in danger. Bang. Instant drama. It may be stereotypical drama, but it works. One need only look at the news coverage whenever a young child falls in a well or simply goes missing to realize just how well it can work. And if you want the drama to change to sadness, you have Little Johnny end up dead, drowned in the swollen, raging stream. If you want more drama, have him found alive but unconscious. You build more drama in the hospital as the family hopes and prays that the boy recovers. If you want happiness, the boy is found alive or eventually wakes up in the hospital.

These are primal emotions, here. Emotions which will affect all but the hardest of the hard-hearted readers. Well, and other writers. Writers will look not just at the emotions you attempt to evoke, they'll look at the effect the emotions had on the characters in your story. Regardless of what happens to Little Johnny, if his brother Bill isn't changed by the experience then the emotions are just cheap theater. The writer will have used them to try to make the readers care about the story, but will have shown his own lack of interest by simply ignoring the effects those emotions would have on real people.

Here are a couple of examples from movies.

In Independence Day, the president has a wife and a child. The child is with the president, so is in the same danger as her father. The first lady is in Los Angeles and is only seen briefly prior to the aliens' attack. Anyone who's seen the movie knows that Will Smith's girlfriend finds the wounded first lady and both are brought to Area 51 when Will Smith steals a helicopter and goes to get his girlfriend. Once under actual medical care, the first lady dies. It's all very sad. But what difference does it make to the story?

None at all. The president is already filled with resolve to fight back against the aliens. He doesn't change his plans or modify his behavior. The first lady wasn't even used as an excuse to allow Will Smith to go rescue his girlfriend or a reason why he wasn't grounded (at the very least) when he returned with the stolen helicopter. It's all fake emotion. No one is changed. The story isn't affected. It seems likely to me that the first lady was included in the story simply so she could die and make us all sad for a minute or two before the movie got on with kicking the aliens' butts.

The 2009 Star Trek movie opens with a lot of action surrounding a subplot of the birth of James T. Kirk. Kirk's father sacrifices himself to ensure his crew and family get the time they need to get away. The movie could just as easily have allowed Kirk's father to escape at the last second, been hailed as a hero, and given James Kirk all the example necessary for him to join Starfleet and become the great man he was in the original TV series and the subsequent movies. So, was the elder Kirk's sacrifice just an emotional ploy to make us feel sad?

I say no. Without a father to guide him, Kirk becomes a rule breaker, if not an outright criminal. One of those kids who had all sorts of potential but was busy wasting it on silly stunts such as stealing his uncle's Corvette or getting into a bar fight with a bunch of Starfleet recruits. Pike may have appealed to Kirk's personal pride when he challenged him to do half as well as his father had when getting him to join Starfleet, but that didn't change Kirk's personality. In the end, saving earth and all of its citizens took someone willing to break the rules and use his gut instincts. Starfleet gave Kirk a useful way to channel his rebellious streak, but Starfleet needed the rebel just as much as the rebel needed Starfleet. The movie conveyed sadness at the death of Kirk's father, but the scene was vital to development of the main character.

This is the challenge all writers face when conveying emotions. The emotion must have some effect on the characters and the story, else why include the scene? If all of you reading this are saying, "Duh! That's pretty obvious, Henry." then we here at the Friday Challenge have been doing something right. But I see this simple rule violated often enough that I thought it would bear stating outright.

Primal emotions are easy to invoke but they come with a cost. As long as your characters pay the price for their emotions, you'll have one less thing to worry about in your writing.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

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?

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Ultimate Geek Fu

Today we approach the apotheosis of Ultimate Geek Fu, as we seek the answer to what may be the ultimatest Ultimate Geek Fu question of them all: who exactly is the real spiritual father of Captain James T. Kirk?

Roddenberry himself said Kirk was essentially C. S. Forester's Captain Horatio Hornblower set in space, although in other contexts he also described Star Trek as "Wagon Train to the Stars." Personally I always considered the original show to be darned close to Forbidden Planet: The Series, as there are some remarkable similarities. For example, the United Federation of Planets starship Enterprise, as originally modeled, bears more than a passing resemblance to United Planets starcruiser C57-D, with some extra bits and fins and stuff glued on:

Commanded by the heroic Captain J. J. Adams (Leslie Nielsen!)—

—ably assisted by his loyal crew, advised by his closest confidant, the ship's doctor, and supported by the brilliant engineer -slash- communications officer, Quinn—

—the C57-D prowls about the stars, with the crew watching planets on the big screen—

—dematerializing and rematerializing as needed—

—packing totally cool zap guns—

—and of course, in the end, Captain Adams scores the hot babe.

Seems like a slam-dunk, right? But...

But a few weeks ago I got a new four-pack of old movies. I bought it solely for The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms, Ray Bradbury and Ray Harryhausen's early masterpiece.

Another time, perhaps, we can discuss the debts that the later Gojira and the much later American Godzilla movies owe to this earlier and in many respects far superior movie. But what I want to talk about right now is a surprise bonus that was also in the box: a wonderful and apparently forgotten little 1956 gem, World Without End.

The story:

An advanced spaceship, returning from a mission to Mars, encounters a mysterious energy storm in space—

—is thrown off-course and catapulted far beyond Ludicrous Speed—

—to crash-land on a mysterious planet—

—where they discover terrible monsters—

—ugly and violent primitive hominids—

—and—gasp!—it's the Earth!

They've been catapulted forward in time to the 25th century! Where the survivors of the great atomic holocaust live underground, in warrens of weird pastel-colored trapezoidal tunnels—

—furnished entirely with Danish Modern furniture—

—in a horrible, cramped, and dispirited world in which the men have de-evolved into pallid, effete, and badly dressed weenies—

—while the women, of course, all look like Vargas pin-up girls.

Equally of course, the women find these manly men from the past to be utterly irresistable—

—while the men take a somewhat different view.

There fellow plots, machinations, betrayals, etc., etc., until at last, the studly spaceship captain—

That's right, none other than Hugh Marlowe, who you've also seen in Earth vs The Flying Saucers, The Day The Earth Stood Still, and a host of other 1950s sci-fi and hard-boiled detective movies and TV series. Anyway, Marlowe stirs these effete weenies into action, rouses their long-repressed manhood and self-respect, teaches them how to make weapons and to fight, and leads them back up onto the surface—

—where he frees the slaves—

—defeats the evil Gorn Klingon Sasquatch whatever leader in hand-to-hand combat—

—and brings the blessings of housing projects—

—and public schools—

—to the primitives. And of course, in the end—

—he scores the hottest of the hot babes.

And if that does not definitively establish that Hugh Marlowe is the true spiritual father of Captain James T. Kirk...

Well, then let the arguments begin.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

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?

Friday, January 7, 2011

The Friday Challenge - 7 Jan 2011

This week in The Friday Challenge

Stuart Watkinson checks in from the land of Oz about Why We Write. Funny how his inability to draw led to such colorful writing. Join the discussion...

Henry Vogel resolves to perform a feat that would leave the most hardened Army grunt shaking in his boots: Finish a Novel Without Pictures. Join this discussion… He also explains how inextricably linked his notions of written and spoken stories are in Why We Write. Join the other discussion…

Ultimate Geek Fu tackles an incredibly difficult and existential question: Is there a better B movie than Flash (“Ah-ah, he’ll save every one of us!”) Gordon? Join the discussion... And then discusses the possibility that geeks have so taken over the world that they’re irrelevant. Join the other discussion…

Kersley Fitzgerald proves that her new schedule leaves her no time to write by spamming the dickens out of the site. First, in “The Gift of Words,” she talks about how what we say and write can reach others. Join the discussion... Then she hits the new year running by messing up her New Year’s post about a holiday letter in the future by posting it late. Join the other discussion… Then she continues the tradition by posting her New Year’s Resolution a day late—and refusing to care about it. Join the other other discussion...

Finally, ~BRB temporarily lights the “Kvetching Allowed” sign as the inmates discuss the view from their respective places in the asylum (Join the discussion...), and such a plethora of challenges are given and taken that I can’t find them all. All this and more, this week in The Friday Challenge.

Critical Thinking: New Year’s Resolution 2011

From: Kersley Fitzgerald and all other affiliated identities

Attention: Universe

Re: New Year’s Resolution

I hereby, being of relatively sound mind, resolve to spend 2011 disappointing people.

Let it be shown that I am not responsible for others’ expectations. If another chooses to place an expectation upon me without my approval, I am not obligated to either acknowledge or fulfill that expectation.

To wit:

To the woman at the Creature’s Webelos meeting: I formally decline your invitation to help plan the Boy Scout’s Blue and Gold Banquet. Despite the strong belief that I owe you, a stranger, no excuse or specifics, I swear (or affirm) that I do not have the emotion margin to care whether you serve fried chicken or spaghetti. I do not have the capacity to sit through an hour-and-a-half long meeting discussing the need for coffee. I wish you well, but I am resolved to sit here, reading The Picture of Dorian Gray on my Kindle, before collecting my child and returning to my husband who is suffering from a horrible sinus infection.

To the new member of our writer’s group: I understand that you are a published author who might even make a living writing Christian historical romances. And I appreciate your concern about me, someone you’ve never met before. Yes, I have made a mere $35 in my writing career. Still, I respectfully decline to take your advice to bring any material before I am ready to bring it. And the fact that you make a living off of Christian historical romances really does nothing for your credibility.

To the friend of a friend who has no husband or kids and posted Stephen King’s quote about if you don’t have time to read, you don’t have time to write: You have no husband or kids. Your job is as an independent representative for a cosmetic company. You—nevermind. You annoy me. Bugger off.

To my boss #1 whom I love and appreciate dearly: I want to do the best work I can for you. You hired and trained me in a job I enjoy and that gave me the flexibility to work around the schedule of the Creature. And I understand how vital my job is to your business. But when you refuse to hire me as more than a contractor, and then give me work five days before Christmas, please don’t be surprised when it doesn’t get done in a timely manner. Christmas, in-laws, Maj Tom and the Creature home, and a horrible cold, sadly, all take precedence. Oh, as does the new regular job with more hours and higher pay. I’m sorry I couldn’t give you the attention you needed when you needed it. If you had to try to work with man, child, and in-laws in the house, while literally choking on your own phlegm, you would understand.

To the worship leader: I want to be a rock star. I want to play like Eric Clapton or Santana. That’s not gonna happen. I have seen that picture of you up on a stage, rockin’ your Strat’. That picture was taken when I was four years old (okay, that’s an exaggeration, but I know you met your wife giving her guitar lessons when I was about four). I would love to take lessons and be as cool as you. Instead, I commit to showing up for practices and every Sunday I’m not out of town. And occasionally picking up the guitar during the week. But I will always need sheet music, and I will never be able to play tabs.

To the grandparents of the Creature: My job is to raise your grandson to grow up to be a not-an-ax-murderer. I understand the culture of the times leads you to believe this includes the absolute necessity of passing on school pictures to you, his grandparents—pictures that look like a police mug-shot of a stoned child. But in reality land, this is not necessarily so. Yes, it bereaves me beyond belief that this means you seem to think we need family pictures taken that look like something out of a church directory. But so be it.

Finally, to our financial advisor:…Ne’rmind. Just looking at me sends you into a rage, and the feeling’s mutual.

To my husband and my kid and my sister and my boss #2 and my small group and you fine hobbitses (and hirsute elves): I am going to disappoint you. But I don’t want to. I like you guys. I like who I am when I’m around you. You seem to like me more than the things I can do for you. You let me breathe and mess up think things through for myself. Strange how that makes me want to not disappoint you.

You know, besides the odd one-day-late article.

Apropos of nothing: I went hiking on my way to work this morning (yay for spontaneous hiking!) and saw the biggest coyote I've ever seen. I didn't have my camera, though. Maybe next time.

This isn't the coyote, this is my creepy-eyed dog. But the coyote was about the same size.

Otogu Has Been Demanding of Late...

Otogu (aka "Other things of greater urgency") is a difficult deity to appease. Of late, he has been very demanding of the Friday Challenge Troika. As such, no new post concerning Friday Challenges has been written for today. Once one of us is able to appease Otogu for an hour or so, we'll try to get a post written.

Meanwhile, may Otogu remain blissfully unaware of you and your family!

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Ultimate Geek Fu

I recently read an article in Wired magazine written by some guy named Patton Oswalt. He's apparently a comedian or actor or author or something. And he's really irritated about something. In Wake Up, Geek Culture, Time to Die, Oswalt informs us that the internet is going to be the death of geekdom.

I've heard the internet blamed for a lot of things -- falling productivity at work, divorces inspired by internet porn, addiction to online video games, the destruction of the written word by Instant Message shortcuts, to name a few. But I never thought I'd hear the crowning achievement of geek culture blamed for destroying that same culture.

It appears that the internet has made it too easy to become a geek. Oswalt laments the loss of the hunt, when you or one of your geek friends would be the first to find out about something -- Japanese manga or a new, unknown comic book writer or comic book artist or something new on the gaming front -- and gain prestige by introducing everyone else to the discovery. Of course, his idea of "the hunt" is based on the 1980s when it was already getting much easier to be a geek.

When I got into comic books, we didn't have any of those fancy comic book stores around. You had haunt the comic book racks at the local Quickie Mart and hope you managed to find each new issue of the books you followed. When I got interested in role playing games, only major cities had actual game stores. I had to subscribe to magazines to find out about other magazines to subscribe to so I could find the advertisements from the obscure mail order places that sold such things as Dungeons & Dragons and the odd dice used in the game.

Yeah, that's when geeks were true geeks! Oswalt's "good old days" involved going to actual comic book stores and game stores, places that specialized in exactly the stuff he was interested in. Sure, you might still be the first guy in your group to decide to buy a particular comic or game, but it simply as easy as going to the store and spending the money. That was luxury to us older geeks, us true geeks! (Queue a Monty Python sketch, here. Oh, and there's another thing we older geeks had to diligently hunt for. None of that Monty Python's Flying Circus on cable because we didn't have cable!)

So what is Oswalt's problem, anyway? Apparently, simply having access to the internet means that anybody -- anybody -- can learn all there is to know about some obscure, geeky subject in just one weekend. Gosh, that might mean even girls will be able to become masters of geek fu and shame us with their vast knowledge; knowledge gained through the internet rather than earned in the comic book store.

To which I say, "So what?"

Oswalt suffers from the delusion that the true measure of geek is in how much you know about some obscure subject. Despite all his ranting, Oswalt hasn't managed to notice that there is still a distinct subculture that is geekdom. He thinks that information will be sought out by every Tom, Dick, and Harriet simply because the information is out on the internet, just a few keystrokes away.

What sets a geek apart isn't so much what he (or she -- I rather like the idea of having girls in the geek club) knows as it is how deeply he's willing to immerse himself in the subject. When a geek finds something that interests him, he dives headlong into the subject, learning as much as he can about it. A "normal" person, even one who likes role playing games or Japanese manga, simply won't have the level of dedication to spend the time and effort necessary to learn everything they can about their interests. It just wouldn't cross their minds.

In geek terms, Oswalt is a moron. He has confused availability with interest. I hereby cast him from the ranks of the geeks. Let none give him comfort until he learns the error of his ways.

Though I will admit he managed to blame the internet for something I never would have believed it would be blamed.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Why We Write

This week: Henry Vogel

I looked around the room at the faces of some of my best friends. Those faces conveyed a range of emotions.

I saw anger.

I saw fear.

I saw determination.

All of it directed at me. Or, rather, the character I portrayed at the moment in the role playing game I was running. For those who are unfamiliar with them, good role playing games can be described as a live novel or, perhaps better, team storytelling. There are rules and dice and other things one associates with games. But mostly, good role playing games are about stories and words and emotions.

And that is the truly amazing thing about stories. The right collection of words form a story. The right story sparks our imagination. Our imagination evokes the whole range of emotions; wonder, fear, anger, horror, humor. It's kind of crazy when you think about it. A bunch of squiggles on a page or screen. A range of sounds from a mouth. Yet our brains translate those squiggles or sounds and returns emotions.

You all know that I'm a storyteller. I've written several times about role playing games, too. Both of these are verbal ways of conveying stories. And voice can be truly powerful, allowing the story to enter our imaginations directly and without the extra steps required to translate squiggles on a page into words and then plugging them into our imagination. But, powerful as the voice is, it is extremely limited, as well. My voice is not in your house. My voice is not in your car. My voice is here in Raleigh, North Carolina, no where near most of you who read the Friday Challenge.

So I write my stories down. Once written, my stories are ready whenever anyone wishes to read them. Those little squiggles on the page or the screen are always ready to enter your imagination and send forth emotions. The little squiggles can reach across vast distances and even across time, itself. As long as someone is around to read them, those little squiggles will do what I can only do in person (and while alive).

They evoke emotions.

Which is what stories are for.

And that is why I write.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Happy New Year!

Happy January First, 2029! Hope this missive finds you and yours well and profitable, and that you’re not too hung-over from celebrating (or mourning) your bottom CRAS line. We had a few hi-jacked pages, but nothing that interfered with sales. (Did you hear about ChristianBooks.com? They actually bowed to pressure and dedicated half their front page to a non-marketing message on the 25th. I’d hate to see their numbers this year!)

As most of you know, our big happening was getting caught in the little skirmish in SeaTacPort last January. We were very fortunate to be about half a mile away from the actual incident. No external injuries, thankfully, although we did suffer some PTSS from hearing the explosion and being delayed in traffic for half an hour. Little HunyGirl (can you believe she’s four?!) is still talking about the “big boom.” We filed a Variable Inconvenience Claim: Terror-Motivated of course. Happy to say the folks down at the Religious Recompense Fund were very prompt. We received our reimbursement the next day and have used the money to build a ten-foot security wall around the property. Right now it’s just plastisteel, but after we cover it with stucco, it should look quite nice.

Well we were so impressed with our experiences with the RRF that Falcon and I both decided to campaign for Oprah again. You have to admit that the idea to tax religious organizations to pay for the injuries of those caught in terrorist attacks is just genius. And what she’s done with the military—

Oh, that reminds me. Ben-Chang has news. He’s been promoted to master sergeant! He’s only six, but he has forty-six confirmed live kills with only three bot casualties in his unit! We couldn’t be more proud. And he loves it. Blackshadow (we’re all Blackshadow supporters, of course) even brought him an up-graded system. Of course, he still thinks it’s one of those video games. We don’t let him watch the real news. (We don’t watch the news!) Someday, though, he’ll realize just how influential he was in the War Against Nuisance. So far his little avatar has fought in Kyrgyzstan, Indonesia, and Amsterdam. Oprah’s idea to turn our military completely over to contractor drones has had such a wonderful affect on world affairs. Ben-Chang said that things have been so quiet in Kabul that his unit had to get work guarding a local farm. I guess flowers must be very popular there, because the farmer gave them quite the bonus.

Which, honestly, we’ve needed. As you know, Falcon has six parents to support. That is one thing we wish Oprah would focus on more. With mandatory retirement at forty-five, even Falcon and I don’t have much time left in the marketplace. Ben-Chang’s been able to fund our parents’ retirement cruises for two years, now. HunyGirl is working on her recruit qualifications and will be able to help out some when she starts her Green Tour in February. I’m afraid that if our parents are still alive in another six years, though, Falcon’s parents will have to move into town. Thankfully, my seven parents bought cruise insurance during that two-month window it was available. They really love their cruises, and it’s so nice to be able to see them so much. Just last night, after pulling guard duty, Ben-Chang played Wiiii lacrosse with his Grandpa Betty while s/he was sailing the Mediterranean. Well, until the Sanctification of Sacred Holiness disabled the satellites. Because of the interrupted family time, Ben-Chang and Betty both received enough from the RRF to go on a virtual tour of the Virgin Geosynch Resort. Ben-Chang liked it so much he’s studying zero-gee warfare and applying to the Blackshadow Orbital Operations Branch as soon as he turns seven.

I do hope he gets in. Kids have such a short amount of time to play before they have to grow up, don’t they? I suppose you’ve heard about our Cassiopeia. When she graduated from Blackshadow and decided to study sociological marketing at Yale Virtual, we were so proud. To think that our daughter would have such an influence on commerce and capitalism! Most ten-year-olds have to go to two years of junior analysis before moving on to such a difficult curriculum. But she flew through the entrance exam and really seemed to enjoy her studies. I think that became her problem. She always was a bright child (you’ll remember it was she who developed the artificial intelligence algorithm on Blackshadow’s scavenge-bots) but honestly, catching on so quickly gave her too much time to herself. She fell in with the Ender’s Liberation Movement. As many of you know (Sorry about that! I don’t know how she broke into Falcon’s LiveSpot account, but we’ve since restricted her access to our private flists.) she’s lobbying to convince Oprah to study the effects of combat on our young Blackshadow gamers and provide counseling opportunities should they suffer PTSS. We have to support her freedom of expression, but for all her book-smarts, we really worry about her common sense. Ben-Chang has shown no distress working for Blackshadow, and we don’t expect him to when we explain how real the games were when he graduates at age ten. And HunyGirl loves her training. Cassiopeia hasn’t yet taken the harder ELM line and demanded the youth avatar program be shut down, but be sure if we catch even a hint of it, we’ll file a VIC:TM claim and get this worked out.

Ah, well. The more things change, the more they stay the same. My mothers are more than happy to tell anyone who will listen how I spent one year around my ninth birthday trying to convince them that December was originally set aside for family and religious holidays and December 31st was a celebration of the coming New Year. How embarrassing, but I actually thought Commercial Recovery and Acquisitions Season was corporations’ attempt to brainwash the foolish masses into spending money. My mothers wisely let me have my little rant, knowing that once I held my first million-Euro check for programming advert-bots at Amazon I’d change my tune. And now I’m senior director of subliminal marketing. Things have a way of working out.

Love from,

Maria Soon-Lee Groober-Tet-Longcoski
Falcon Zeppler Hanover-Longcoski
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