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Thursday, June 30, 2011

Deadline Reminder

The deadline for the current Friday Challenge — Pitch Black, and Then Some! — is 6 AM Eastern time on the morning of Friday, 1 July 2011... less than twenty-four hours away.

Entries may be added to The Friday Challenge Yahoo Group (see the appropriate directory within the "Files" section), hosted on your personal blog(s) and linked within the comments for the challenge, or copied directly into the comments section as a post.

In previous challenges, we have accommodated late entries. This time, we have no such luxury; if you post an entry much later than 6 AM Eastern time, there is a chance the judges will not be able to properly consider your work. Should you anticipate a need to snowdog, please mentally back the deadline up as much as necessary. If the deadline hits and you are very, very close, please publicly announce your intention to enter.

A winner will be declared by the evening of Sunday, 3 July 2011.



The deadline for our current Greater Challenge — The Thing without a Name — is 6 AM Eastern time on the morning of Friday, 8 July 2011. A winner will be declared by the evening of Sunday, 24 July 2011. (That's approximately four one weeks in which to write, and two weeks in which to judge. Use your time well.)

Greater Challenges are intended to produce complete, salable works. It is strongly recommended that entries be added to The Friday Challenge Yahoo Group (see the appropriate directory within the "Files" section) in order to preserve first publication rights.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

World Enough, and Time

(First, a quick side note.  Has anyone ever heard of the book The Artist's Way?  It's all about knocking down the walls between you and your creativity.  

I just wanted to let everyone know that she-who-must-be-obeyed, LadyQuill herself, is running a twelve-week long email workshop group that follows the plans and exercises laid out in The Artist's Way.  If anyone would like to join, it just started yesterday; grab a copy of the book if you can, though it's not an absolute requirement, and join the Yahoo group "releasing_creativity".  Just tell her I sent you.  -=ad=-)

...how much do you need...?

This is more of a curiousity thing than anything else.

Some of my more...yes, I'll accept responsibility for my garbage, AWFUL...Friday Challenge entries were written after 11:30pm Thursday night and slapped into place just before the deadline (I'm thinking a Hillary Clinton--Marvin Martian mashup as one prime example).  

The best ones require a weekend of fermentation, while the Challenge idea simmers on low heat down at the base of my subconscious, and then six or seven hours of writing time, with an hour or two of editing and final revision Thursday night (this was the process for "Emissary" and "Recursive Stack Overflow," two of my favorites).

Nano proves I can write *something* in little three-minute bursts throughout the day, if that's what I need to do...but I much prefer an hour or two without a lot of distrations, and sometimes that hour is really hard to come by.

So, I'll keep this week's missive short and sweet, throw it out to the studio audience, and ask "how much time do you need to write what you write?"  A perfectly relevant side question would be "and at what part of the day?"

-=ad=-

Allan Davis is a writer, photographer, programmer, husband, father, geek, and sf/fantasy/horror/comic/anime fan, hailing from the high cliffs and tidal pools of Nebraska.

Flash Fiction Advisory

Write for speed. Hopefully.

Stuck? Here's an exercise in flash: write 100 words, as fast as you can.

Now, go back and highlight any phrases that make sense.

Hopefully, you'll find three. Now, circle the words you like.

Hopefully, you'll find three. Now, find a character.

Hopefully, you'll find one.

Rewrite it as a story, using only those little brain grenades that did the most literary damage.

Now, what do you have?

A good start on a fiction idea, with a few key images that will add depth that you would have otherwise missed when trying to crank out an orderly, plausible story.

Hopefully.

Flash Fic Advisory #10: If you can't write good, write fast.


Note: I've been trying this lately, getting interesting results. I invite anyone else's experience with this. The first part takes less than 60 seconds if you push it and don't worry about spelling errrors. 90 if you are pokey.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

And the winner is...

Our ninth challenge calls for the unique application of a classic trope.

If any of you are able to take a second look at your own work, and see ways in which to improve a concept so that it can be more successfully developed, the effort will be worthwhile.

Those of you who vote are allowed to assign a range of “0” to “3” points, per entry. Since challengers may not vote for their own stories, a bonus of 2 points is given to a participant's highest-ranked work, if that participant also takes the time to vote on the other entries.

Official judges receive a 30 point allocation, to assign as they see fit. The only restriction is that at most, only half of those points may be given to any single entry, and there is no requirement for a judge to use the entire 30 point allocation.

Triton is about to put on the “Editor Hat.” It's sort of like the “Sorting Hat” they use at Hogwarts (“Technology? You call that technology? I'll give you technology! Oh, wait... that was magic.”), but a little less sarcastic.


Clarke's Third Law

Triton: First, I would like to heartily thank everyone who participated in the Challenge. I wasn't expecting seven entries; my cup runneth over. You guys rock.

Now for the reviews. Remember, I'm just trying to be as honest as I can, but at the same time I don't want to hurt anyone's feelings. It's a fine line to walk, and one I'll inevitably trip over, so I'm just going to apologize now for any ego-bruising that takes place. Sorry! With that said, off we go:


“iWill” by miko

Triton: I'm not quite sure what to make of this one. My first impression after the first few paragraphs was that the narrator was some sort of deity, but obviously that turned out not to be the case. I'm not sure, though, exactly what the case turned out to be. The “I willed” stuff became a bit too repetitive. The narrator's rationalization process vis-a-vis the girl's comments makes me think that he's some geek who doesn't have any luck with women and, as a result of his loneliness and geeky-ness, is kind of losing his mind. I'm guessing the setting is a park or something, he's engaging in some day-dreaming, and at the end he just goes home and goes to sleep. Like I said, though, I'm not exactly sure, so I may have interpreted it all wrong. It's a sad story, and a bit of a disturbing one, since the guy sounds a little psychotic or something. Like a potential Dylan Klebold or Eric Harris, you know? I actually kind of like it, though, in spite of the ambiguity and repetitive “I willed”s. Expand it a little bit, and this might make a good psychological horror story. Unfortunately, however, I am unable to detect anything that actually relates to Clarke's Third Law. If this whole thing was part of a virtual reality machine, then that should have been made more apparent, because my personal conclusion is that the guy is simply delusional. As it is, it just doesn't seem to meet the Challenge criteria.

Arisia: 3 / Arvid Macenion: 2 / miko: voted! / xdpaul: 2
Triton: 1
Total: 8



“The Land of Jade (and Ed)” by miko

Triton: I like the idea of a kid's story and how you contrasted the magic and the technology. The girl's interruptions, though, got tiresome really fast. After the first couple, I think the father should have told her to hush if she wanted to hear the rest of the story. And I'm not sure who the “small, insistent voice from the dark” at the end belongs to – is it Ed or Jade? Because it makes a pretty big difference, in my opinion. If it's Ed, I would change it to “small, metallic voice” or “small, synthesized voice” or something similar so that we know it's the robot talking. As it is, though, I think it makes more sense for the voice to belong to Jade due to her “you're so silly” remark. That remark seems to place the setting in the present instead of the future. Again, the whole ending seems to ride on this one “insistent voice” line. If you meant it to be Jade's voice, then I would probably turn the robot into a teddy bear or something just to remove any doubt. I actually liked the potential of “iWill” a little better, but this story seems more complete and made a stronger effort at meeting the criteria, so it gets a higher score.

Arisia: 2 / Arvid Macenion: 3 / miko: voted! / xdpaul: 3
Triton: 3
Participation bonus: 2
Total: 13



“New Beginnings at Colony 405” by Ryan J

Triton: This story is exactly the kind of thing I was hoping for. I like the role reversal, too; having the superstitious folk be the ones dependent on technology and wary of the back-to-nature “witches” was a really neat idea. You really nailed the sense of wonder and uncertainty on the part of the “magic” observer, which I think is important. I really don't have much to suggest in the way of improvement. Excellent job.

Arisia: 3 / Arvid Macenion: 3 / miko: 3 / xdpaul: 2
Triton: 10
Total: 21



“MAGIC” by ApolloKioku

Triton: First of all, I have to say that I love the voice. Very appropriate for the time period. I like the concept of the machine, too. I think this idea would make a pretty cool steampunk fantasy. The problem, though, at least as far as the Challenge criteria is concerned, is that the thing seems actually magical, rather than simply being an advanced piece of technology that only appears to be magical to the uninitiated. A machine that swims against the tide of entropy in such fashion is far-fetched enough; having the ancient Assyrians come up with such a thing, though, definitely demands further explanation. There's also the head-scratcher of Maialen getting shocked when she touches a part of the machine that is made of wood (a non-conductor). As the story stands, it seems to be dealing in magic rather than technology masquerading as magic. Great story idea, but not nearly enough scientific plausibility for the Challenge criteria.

Arisia: 1 / Arvid Macenion: 2 / miko: 2 / xdpaul: 1
Triton: 2
Total: 8



“The Best of Times” by Arisia

Triton: This rang a familiar note, because I'm sure we've all had frustrating co-workers at one time or another. I'm not sure I really “get it”, though. I understand the others trying to motivate Bob into performing better, but I'm not making the connection between their little stunt and his improved performance. And how did they know where (or when) he was going, anyway? And were the paychecks for the stunt, or for whatever they do at their regular jobs? Or was this stunt their “regular jobs”? There's just a little too much information missing. There's a potentially cool story here, but certain ambiguities need to be hammered down. I did, however, really like Bob's failed attempt at provoking Clarke's Third Law. I think that was an interesting and clever way to meet the criteria of the Challenge.

Arisia: voted! / Arvid Macenion: 1 / miko: 2 / xdpaul: 1
Triton: 2
Participation bonus: 2
Total: 8



“The Devil You Don’t” by xdpaul

Triton: This seemed like a cool, straight-forward story, and, unlike your shark story, I actually thought I was going to make it all the way through this one without having my mind scrambled. Then the stuff about “datastream”, “hacking”, and “firewall” appeared, leaving me wondering at the end exactly what was real, what was metaphor, and what was just bits on a computer screen. And I have absolutely no idea what “anthropomorphized an antibody” refers to, except that it might possibly be the warehouse door. Which, of course, isn't “anthropic” at all, so that can't be it. Unless it is. Anyway, if you had just had the dinosaur be a mechanical thing and all the action be real (non-metaphorical) and left it at that, then I think the story would have been stronger. Adding the ambiguity just made it more nebulous and confusing for me. You have a wonderful imagination and an exquisite way with words, but, frankly, reading your stuff occasionally makes me feel like a real dim-wit. Subtlety's a fine thing, taken in moderation, but one must be careful not to out-clever one's reader. Sometimes it's better to just let the cigar be a cigar.

Arisia: 3 / Arvid Macenion: 1 / miko: 2 / xdpaul: voted!
Triton: 3
Participation bonus: 2
Total: 11



“The Devil's Path” by Arvid Macenion

Triton: This one's a home run. At the end, I could almost see the other critters sitting around listening to Grandfather tell his tales of legend and myth. The primal emotions of fear, uncertainty, awe, etc. really come through; like Ryan J, you nailed what I consider an important aspect. My only nitpick is that animals are used instead of humans, and that seems like a little bit of a cop-out to me as far as as the Challenge is concerned since Clarke's Third Law is a phenomenon of human psychology and animals don't use technology anyway. This is a minor point, though, and everything else about the story is simply excellent. Well done.

Arisia: 3 / Arvid Macenion: voted! / miko: 3 / xdpaul: 3
Triton: 9
Participation bonus: 2
Total: 20



Wrap-up...

Based on the numbers, we have a very close first and second place:

2nd Place: 20 points — “The Devil's Path” by Arvid Macenion

1st Place: 21 points — “New Beginnings at Colony 405” by Ryan J

(Ryan J did not get an opportunity to vote this weekend, but if he had, I strongly suspect we would have seen another tie!)

Congratulations, both of you! Ryan J, as winner you have the option of proposing a new challenge... or, since you have already served as HTM twice, you may elect to pass the “Editor Hat” to Arvid Macenion, so that you may more quickly participate again. The next challenge is scheduled to be announced the morning of Friday, 1 July 2011.


Afterword...

So what was the lesson of this challenge?

Triton: I can't stress enough just how pleased I was to have so many fine entries. Y'all really came through for me, and I appreciate it. There was something valuable in every story, but two of them stood out above the rest: “New Beginnings at Colony 405” and “The Devil's Path”, with a slight edge to the former. Both of these stories took hold of the Challenge criteria and really sucked the marrow out of it. Congratulations to both Ryan J and Arvid Macenion for their magnificent efforts.

Saturday, June 25, 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, June 24, 2011

The Friday Challenge — 6/24/2011

This week in The Friday Challenge:

Guy Stewart gets lucky, and makes the most of it! (Why are you looking at me that way? He said it first.) • Join the discussion...

Henry Vogel observes behavior that could either be described as double standard, or a Rube Goldberg singularity in action. • Join the discussion...

Guy Stewart admits he invented the equivalent of "Starfleet for talking dolphins." • Join the discussion...

Bruce Bethke and Karen Bethke team up to analyze True Blood, and they seem to be in favor of it. (But a larger question remains unanswered: What would Bruce think of vampire furries?) • Join the discussion...

Daniel Eness threatens menace, for potential rather than kinetic reasons. • Join the discussion...

Arisia and Ryan J manage an impromulgable tie in Ernest T. Scribbler's Unbeskorrnt Mnebeholiths fanzine challenge. • Join the discussion...

All this and more, as the close proximity of Ice Cream Soda Day and National Chocolate Eclair Day results in a sugar rush of unforeseen proportions, and the inmates discuss the view from their respective places in the asylum.


Clarke's Third Law

As of the deadline for our current challenge, we have received the following entries (listed in their order of appearance within Files > Friday Challenge 2011 06-24):

  • “iWill” by miko

  • “The Land of Jade (and Ed)” by miko

  • “New Beginnings at Colony 405” by Ryan J

  • “MAGIC” by ApolloKioku

  • “The Best of Times” by Arisia

  • “The Devil You Don’t” by xdpaul

  • “The Devil's Path” by Arvid Macenion

An enthusiastic “Huzzah” to all who have entered! The judges are now considering your submissions. A winner will be declared by the evening of Sunday, 26 June 2011.


Pitch Black, and Then Some!

And now it is time for this week's Friday Challenge, courtesy of Arisia:

One would think that a writer would be creative by definition, but actually I'm a much better copier than original creator. So after thinking about it for a while and coming up with only one idea (which would be a good exercise but kind of boring), I cheated. I asked my son.

He's very good at thinking up interesting writing challenges, which he calls assignments. Two of his more memorable ones for me were “Yellow” and “Five really geeky young guys and a gorgeous, dressed-up girl walked in the door together.”

Today's idea was “Write a story or part of a story that takes place in total darkness.” That sounded intriguing to me. This is absolute darkness, no light whatsoever. Not blind people, because their other senses are already enhanced to compensate. And not computers or other personalities that wouldn't need sight. Just ordinary people who depend on being able to see and now can't see anything. You must find other ways to describe the surroundings, the action, and the people. And you must include how the darkness affects the story.

You can write as many or as few words as you want, in any genre.


Anyone can enter, except for Arisia. You may enter as many times as you wish, but each entry must be independent of the others. There is no word limit, but you are still not allowed to build on anyone else's setup.

Everyone is asked to vote, and to say a few words about what they liked, and why. Or to say a few words about what they disliked, as the case may be; by submitting an entry, you implicitly agree to accept criticism, because there will probably be some handed out, and no one is immune. When voting, please rank a work as either “0” (not so good), “1” (not as bad), “2” (could have been better) or “3” (pretty good stuff!). If you give either a “0” or “3” vote, feel free to argue in support of your reasoning.

Don't like the negativity? Feel free to think of the levels as “0” (Not bad for a first attempt), “1” (Right on!), “2” (Holy cow, I wanna buy this now...) or “3” (Sweet mother of God, how did you write something this awesome?!!). The point is to clearly differentiate, and rank according to your own preference.

For the purposes of this challenge Arisia will be serving as Ye Olde High Marker, Voluntarily Walking th' Plank.

As of now, we are playing by the loosely enforced and slightly modified rules of The Friday Challenge. All entries are due by 6 AM Eastern time on the morning of Friday, 1 July May 2011. A winner will be declared by the evening of Sunday, 3 July 2011.


The Thing without a Name (A Greater Challenge!)

Finally, as a reminder, there are two weeks of writing time left in our current Greater Challenge:

A little over a year ago, our founder said, "One of my deeply held beliefs is that science fiction is merely horror with an engineering degree, and that a lot of the "classic" stories of the genre are memorable not for their SF stage dressings, but for the emotional impact of their horrific stories."

We never really did anything with that, did we?

Okay, here is your chance! Think about the all things that frighten you. Think about the monsters under the bed. Think about the scary things that dwell deep down... and then show us how they tick. You can have up to 7,500 words to frighten me as much as possible. Your entry must be at least 1,000 words for me to even consider it.

For this challenge, I only want complete stories. If it's a beautiful fragment, but not convincing as a whole, it will be disqualified.


Anyone can enter. No exceptions. You may enter as many times as you wish, but each entry must be independent of the others. You are still not allowed to build on anyone else's setup... unless you receive their permission, and they agree to a collaborative effort.

All entries in this greater challenge are due by 6 AM Eastern time on the morning of Friday, 8 July 2011. A winner will be declared by the evening of Sunday, 24 July 2011. (That's approximately four two weeks in which to write, and two weeks in which to judge. Use your time well.)

Oh, there is one more thing... but it is the most important! Have fun. Always have fun.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Flash Fiction Advisory

Alec d'Urberville's Pitchfork.

Brutality is the easy mark of a villain, but may fall flat in flash. Violence jars, and there is usually not enough space to unjar. And just forget about the necessary heightening of tension: there’s no time.

Try this. Demonstrate the villain’s predilections through symbols:

Does he carry a toy for a small child?

Does she wear an ancient fur coat with the eye sockets still in?

In small spaces, the “potential energy” of menace comes on with greater force than the “kinetic energy” of violence.

If violence is a stumbling block, let menace be a bridge over it.

Flash Fic Advisory #9: Menace, not violence, may be the fastest way to evoke villainy.

Alert the Fans... Again!

Wow. Either the nice folks at BenBella Books were really pleased with the response to last week's freebie, or else they've run out of A-list contributors and have worked their way down to me.

In either case, From Castle Dracula to Merlotte's Bar & Grill: Some Notes on the Evolution of the Modern Vampire, is this week's featured freebie on the Smart Pop Books site. If you're still spinning your wheels on the current Greater Challenge, you might want to consider checking it out.

But if you're inclined to do so, do so soon, as it comes down next Wednesday.

(Wow again. Hard to believe we wrote that thing just slightly over a year ago. How our lives have changed...)

Deadline Reminder

The deadline for the current Friday Challenge — Clarke's Third Law — is 6 AM Eastern time on the morning of Friday, 24 June 2011... less than twenty-four hours away.

Entries may be added to The Friday Challenge Yahoo Group (see the appropriate directory within the "Files" section), hosted on your personal blog(s) and linked within the comments for the challenge, or copied directly into the comments section as a post.

In previous challenges, we have accommodated late entries. This time, we have no such luxury; if you post an entry much later than 6 AM Eastern time, there is a chance the judges will not be able to properly consider your work. Should you anticipate a need to snowdog, please mentally back the deadline up as much as necessary. If the deadline hits and you are very, very close, please publicly announce your intention to enter.

A winner will be declared by the evening of Sunday, 26 June 2011.



The deadline for our current Greater Challenge — The Thing without a Name — is 6 AM Eastern time on the morning of Friday, 8 July 2011. A winner will be declared by the evening of Sunday, 24 July 2011. (That's approximately four two weeks in which to write, and two weeks in which to judge. Use your time well.)

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

ULTIMATE GEEK FU: seaQuest DSV

“The 21st century…mankind has colonized the last unexplored region on Earth; the ocean. As captain of the seaQuest and its crew, we are its guardians, for beneath the surface lies the future.” (opening credits)

If you put VOYAGE TO THE BOTTOM OF THE SEA, STAR TREK: The Original Series, Aquaman comic books and technobabble mumbo-jumbo in the deep metal bowl of a MixMaster™ and turn it on high speed, you’d get SeaQuest DSV.

More appropriately, you’d get SeaQuest DSV 1, 2 and 3 airing from 1993 through 1996.

Now I need to confess something right now: while I watched every episode of Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea, every episode of Star Trek: The Original Series and read practically every Aquaman comic book ever published and (frequently tried to breathe underwater) it should come as no surprise that I was the one who actually invented SeaQuest DSV!

I’m not even kidding – and here’s how it happened:

From the first time I ever watched FLIPPER, I had a dream. I had a dream to colonize the floor of the ocean and the whole wide seas. I had no idea when I started that 76% of the Earth’s surface is water. It was inconceivable to me that the very air we breathed came from algae and autotrophs floating in the upper reaches of the world ocean.

I drew a sketch of an underwater city, a detail of one level (to be repeated on virtually every floor) and a design for a submarine reminiscent of a hydroplane crossed with a rocket ship. Last of all, I have the letters IORA with a stylized fish swimming right on the bottom and the same fish swimming left on the top – this one has a vertical line dividing the body of the fish from the tail. Bound by a circle, there is a feather (I’m thinking it was my 13-year-old attempt at an olive branch) on top going right and up another on the bottom going left and down.

Judging by the stories it was sandwiched with, it was likely conceived some time in 1971-1973. It was during this time that I began to plan to be a marine biologist.

That was it. Nothing more. No background (though the story following it detailed World War III taking place on March 17, 1974 that was instigated by an unnamed, non-human intelligence); no characters and no other technology but the city and the sub.

Ah – and the acronym: IORA. What did IORA stand for? I’m pretty sure “I” stands for “International” and “O” Ocean or “Oceanographic”. “R” probably is “Research” because I was religiously watching every Jacques Cousteau special that aired whenever it aired. “A” most likely stood for “Association”. While the International Oceanographic Research Association doesn’t carry quite the weight of seaQuest DSV, it was all in my head – Humans would colonize the oceans, learn to communicate with the dolphins (who would turn out to be as smart – or smarter – than us a la Dr. John C. Lilly’s work with dolphins (The Mind of the Dolphin: A Nonhuman Intelligence (1st ed.) Doubleday. 1967)

So aside from the fact that I am the completely uncredited inventor of seaQuest DSV, what did I think of the show?

I think it really went where no “man” has gone before.

We talk so much of going into space, and while I am all for that and always will be, I have seen us neglect the oceans to a shocking degree. We are as primally fearful of great White Sharks in this second decade of the 21st Century as we were when the first dugout canoe tried to cleave the waters off the coast of western Africa. We are as unaware of the life in the ocean today as we were when Christ walked the Earth. We do not understand how the biotic and abiotic factors beneath ¾ of this planet’s surface interact to allow life on the remaining ¼ of the surface to exist.

We are profoundly and seriously handicapped when we have to do anything deeper than 200 meters – look at the botched attempts by BP to cap a single oil pipe.

The coelacanth, a FREAKIN’ prehistoric fish thought extinct thought extinct for 65 million years, was caught in the Indian Ocean in 1938!

Oh, yeah, we’ve sure “conquered” and subdued the Earth!

Our WEATHER comes from the oceans, as does ALL of the fresh water found on every continent. We are personally ¾ water and our tears have a chemical composition similar to that of seawater.

Yet, while we claim dominion over the Earth, we are essentially excluded from three quarters of its surface, we cannot predict weather with any kind of long-range accuracy, we can’t figure out whether the climate is in mortal danger or just going through its cycles or what really causes El Niño. Sharks irrationally terrify us – I live in the center of the North America. The nearest ocean is like, a gazillion miles away, yet I’ve had nightmares about sharks since I saw my first Jacques Cousteau special!

So we get all excited about (make sure you say this in a whisper), “Space, the final frontier…” I know, I do all the time.

Our ocean television is limited to lameness like “Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea”, “Boobwatch”, “Hawaii 5-0” (both incarnations), footage and documentaries on the BP disaster and…um…NOTHING.

As lame as it was at times; as fakey as Darwin’s chatting was; as chaotic as the production of the show was; as cloudy as its vision became; seaQuest DSV (Deep Submersible Vessel) was our last, best attempt to really explore the frontier we continue to ignore, abuse, misunderstand and pretend to know.

If the show had continued, found itself (think STAR TREK: THE NEXT GENERATION) and attempted to tackle the real issues we face today as we overlook ¾ of the Earth’s surface, we might have been better prepared for the BP disaster and we might be discussing the knowledgeable colonization of the ocean today rather than overseeing the moth-balling of the space shuttle fleet.

Let the arguments begin!

Image: http://4.bp.blogspot.com/_VIsJjJ9mhNw/TPWWhQwP7VI/AAAAAAAABA4/Ys7I_sjGOGw/s320/darwin.jpg

Monday, June 20, 2011

Observations of an Old Goat

In which an old goat decides to comment on an oddity he noticed many years ago.

On Mother's Day I took the Boy out to see the movie Thor. His mother stayed home and enjoyed having the house to herself for a few hours. I was not surprised to see quite a few other fathers taking their children to the movie theater on Mother's Day. Obviously quite a few mothers got the gift of peace, quiet, and some time away from the children on Mother's Day.

On Father's Day I took the Boy out to see the movie The Green Lantern. To my surprise, his mother came along to the movie, too. I was not surprised to see quite a few other fathers taking their children to the movie theater on Father's Day. None of the other fathers present were accompanied by the mother of their children. Obviously, quite a few fathers got the gift of time out with their children on Father's Day. The mothers appear to have opted to suffer through an afternoon of peace, quiet, and time away from the children on Father's Day.

Go figure.

WRITING STUFF FOR BIG AND LITTLE KIDS: First Work-for-Hire and Non-Fiction Sale – “Dive Into Darkness”

A good friend of mine is a GREAT science teacher who had moved from the classroom into an administrative position. He got a call one day from the Science Museum of Minnesota asking if he wanted to be one of the science teachers to work on a project with the Museum, Argonne National Laboratories and a television show called THE NEW EXPLORERS. Argonne and NEW EXPLORERS produced television programs showcasing the “hottest” scientists working in the real world today, emphasizing underrepresented individuals in challenging fields.

With the Museum and a group of local teachers, they were looking to create school curriculum to use alongside the broadcast episodes.

He said he’d love to, but he was extremely busy – but he had another person in mind who was a pretty OK science teacher and was a writer to boot.

That person was me.

The Science Museum took the bait and hired me for a summer to view the unaired episode, meet the researcher – Dr. Jill Yaeger, who had discovered the first totally new class of animal of the 20th Century – and with a group of kindergarten through high school teacher to write curriculum that would involve both the television show and the Museum.

Working as a group, we toured the Science Museum of Minnesota numerous times as well as visiting the Forestville/Mystery Cave State Park – both the public tour and a more complex private tour. We watched a large part of the Museum’s IMAX movie collection as well as spoke with Dr. Jill Yager. We pulled together ideas for experiments as well as developed ones we’d never seen before designed to introduce concepts important to the TV show. For example, with another teacher, I devised a way of creating a thermal/halocline in a 2-liter soda bottle using green colored, icy cold salt water and transparent, hot fresh water. I had to write it up, have my partners vet it for fact and efficacy then draw sketches and make a step-by-step plan that was easy to follow. As well, we had to test every lab created then write material connecting the labs back to the television show.

We were expected to provide about 600 pages of information, labs, experiments, background material and everything from simple fact-recall questions through teamwork synthesis questions and research projects. The questions that directly related to the content of the movie were easy and took up about 400 pages. What would we do for the rest? Become creative: how to make caves from Jolly Rancher® candies; learn underwater sign language (there IS no such thing, I had them learn regular sign language – and had to draw the pictures of the hand alphabet myself in order to avoid complicated usage and licensing costs). We had to write scenarios for students to role-play, create art projects, and compose both factual and fiction writing projects as well as create more challenging science experiments and questions for students who were gifted and talented.

Research (in the days before easy internet access) followed discussion and long writing sessions. Jill Yager flew in from Ohio to speak with us at length and we took copious notes, incorporating them into a “speaking to the scientist” kind of interview as well as a set of questions I wrote asking students what they would do “If you were Jill Yager and…” something happened. They were to discuss the situation and brainstorm.

Of course, this was a work-for-hire situation and I was paid when we concluded. HOWEVER, this little project gave me a pair of perks. One I’ll talk about next time, but the other was being nominated for and receiving the Science Museum of Minnesota’s Association of Science-Technology Center’s 1994 Teacher of the Year…my only comment there is, “Sweet!”

What I learned #3: When you’re lucky, do everything you can to make the most of it!

Sunday, June 19, 2011

And the winner is...

Our eighth challenge is... honestly, I am not sure what to write about this one. Ernest supplied a bizarre proposal, and everyone who entered has either risen — or sunk — to the occasion. Congratulations?

If any of you are able to take a second look at your own work, and see ways in which to improve a concept so that it can be more successfully developed, the effort will have been worthwhile.

Those of you who vote are allowed to assign a range of “0” to “3” points, per entry. Since challengers may not vote for their own stories, a bonus of 2 points is given to a participant's highest-ranked work, if that participant also takes the time to vote on the other entries.

Official judges receive a 30 point allocation, to assign as they see fit. The only restriction is that at most, only half of those points may be given to any single entry, and there is no requirement for a judge to use the entire 30 point allocation.

Ernest T. Scribbler is about to put on the “Editor Hat.” It's sort of like the “Sorting Hat” they use at Hogwarts (“I swear, if the headmaster asks me what to do with another maladjusted 'Chosen One' I'll take up drinking...”), but a little less sarcastic.


Ernest T. Scribbler's Unbeskorrnt Mnebeholiths: A Fanzine of Impromulgable Proportions

“Fanfic for the Fanzine” by Arisia

Ernest T. Scribbler: 663 words... and a heck of an homage. I remember when Bob came up with the idea for Mike's strategy. It started with a spitball fight at a con in '64 or '65, if I'm not mistaken. Someone got the bright idea to aim their spitballs up, so that they fell from great heights upon those below. The impact of one knocked Bob's spoon right out of his oatmeal, and I could see the gears turning. I knew he'd find some way to use that in a story.

I am tickled, honored, and a few other complimentary verbs, that you would base this piece around me old typewriter. I am sure that, if it ever woke up in the manner you suggest, the typewriter would be honored too.

You know what would be a really interesting read? If Miko took what you've written, and filtered it through his philosophical sieve, and then the two of you started throwing complications at each other so that Mike and Craig would have to work a little. Make 'em break a sweat, or whatever the virtual equivalent is.

Are you listening, Miko? Are you game, Arisia? Are you insane, Scribbler?

Okay, I already know the answer to that last question.


Arisia: voted! / miko: ♥ / Ryan J: 2 / xdpaul: 3
Ernest T. Scribbler: 11
Participation bonus: 2
Total: 18



“Flexus Emergency” by xdpaul

Ernest T. Scribbler: The flavor of this one reminds me a lot of what good old self-monikered Ramon Felipe San Juan Mario Silvio Enrico Smith Heartcourt-Brace Sierra y Alvarez del Rey y de los Uerdes used to write, for the kiddies. He did it a lot more convincingly.

That's not to say that your piece is bad. Far from it, but as Ryan already pointed out it is incomplete. I want to know more about why you put chimps on the moon, and Colby's need for the wheelchair and crutches, and why the hell society still hasn't advanced beyond mp3 players by the time they establish a Lunar base. I also want you to use more than 1500 words to tell this story, because you haven't given me enough time to be worried about the missing kid.

But you like flash, and what you have here isn't bad. If you shortened it a little more and tightened a few places, it might even be publishable in some of the markets Guy Stewart talks about. Have you thought about doing a bit of straightforward adolescent SF?


Arisia: 2 / miko: ♣ / Ryan J: 2 / xdpaul: voted!
Ernest T. Scribbler: 3
Total: 7



“Jiggle Juice and Cleavage” by xdpaul

Ernest T. Scribbler: You win the "most interesting title" award. With a title like that though, I wanted to read about boozles and boobies. When you finally got around to those two quantities, it was a letdown.

Up to the point where Ray says, "I need to talk to someone. Then break his neck," you've got great plot, and with some tweaking you've also got great technical elements and problem-solving. Work that angle. Show me more about the SpiderCat (sexy computer/waldo thingamajigger!) and iron out Granddad's structural identity. Show me the rust eating through the sides of the truck, and the worn floorboards. Let me smell the grease. Maybe you should find another way to describe "nanocarbon," "nanophones," "nanobatts," "nanoconnection," "nano-organics" and "nanovideo," because they started to feel like nano-holes on a cheese grater.

Overall it's still a good story. It felt good to read this one.

Then you had to go and kill the good feeling with an unresolved allusion. What happened fourteen years, two months, and five days ago? Either it's an important part of Ray's history and should be woven into the background, or it's an unnecessary bit of information. Sure, your corn silk and earth girl is out of place on the platform, but she's also out of place in the narrative. Her only raison d'être is perfumed nudity and innocence, and to serve as a trigger so Ray will think about his past. After that, you gave us bupkis.

I can't use this one. Sorry.

Fix the broken beanstalk depiction, add a few more nuts and bolts, and play up the social disparity. Resolve or remove the jailbait scene. Then try this place instead.


Arisia: 2 / miko: ♦ / Ryan J: 3 / xdpaul: voted!
Ernest T. Scribbler: 6
Participation bonus: 2
Total: 13



“Lost Time” (a.k.a. “Perils of the Internet”) by Ryan J

Ernest T. Scribbler: "Xiphos" is the effective plurality of "Xipheh," yes? Even if it was unplanned, that came across as a masterful touch. In fact, all of this story feels like it was specifically crafted for my fanzine, and for the type of reader who might find it appealing.

Leviathan conjures up other images for me, and I'd be in favor of changing the name to Otogu.

Any chance you could expand this one a bit? With only three swocks at the back-and-forth, you've written one of the most interesting ping-pong games I've ever seen.


Arisia: 3 / miko: ♠ / Ryan J: voted! / xdpaul: 3
Ernest T. Scribbler: 10
Participation bonus: 2
Total: 18



Wrap-up...

Based on the numbers... we have a tie for first place:

1st Place: 18 points — “Fanfic for the Fanzine” by Arisia

1st Place: 18 points — “Lost Time” (a.k.a. “Perils of the Internet”) by Ryan J

Congratulations, both of you! Ryan J has already served as HTM twice, so Arisia receives the invitation to propose next week's challenge, scheduled to be announced the morning of Friday, 24 June 2011.


Afterword...

So what was the lesson of this challenge?

Ernest T. Scribbler: "People will do anything to see their stuff in print." (What do you mean, 'that's not a lesson'? It is, too.)

On a more serious note, creativity takes many forms. Whenever you have trouble being creative in a way that feels safe, rational, or even publishable, then be absurd. Go a little nuts, and put it down on paper.

Thoroughly impromulgable words can also be beautiful, if you look at them the right way.

Arisia and Ryan J, if you'll each take a second pass at your submissions I'd like to use both of them in the first issue.


At 9:01 PM Eastern, Ernest T. Scribbler supplied the following addendum:

Arisia and Ryan J, please send revisions to ernesttscribbler *AT* yahoo.com ... and thank you.

Everyone else, that address is also good for anything you'd like me to consider for future issues. Or for the initial issue! Still a few weeks before the layout is finalized.

Saturday, June 18, 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, June 17, 2011

The Friday Challenge — 6/17/2011

This week in The Friday Challenge:

Bruce Bethke gives Ma & Pa Kettle a belated apology, and learns how helpful the staff at his local B&N can really be. • Join the discussion...

Henry Vogel dares us all to follow through with the next logical step from the "big dream." (For xdpaul, that involves planning the most aduacious identity theft in history.) • Join the discussion...

Daniel Eness tells a joke. So far, nobody gets it. • Join the discussion...

Bruce Bethke analyzes CSI, and does not mourn the death of a single furry. • Join the discussion...

Allan Davis revisits his past NaNoWriMo experiences, and psyches himself up for the next one. • Join the discussion...

Bruce Bethke calls for brainstorming action. Apparently when geeks fail to think, things break. • Join the discussion...

Triton wins the Childhood's Lend (of an Idea or Two...) challenge, and narrowly avoids getting hauled away by his own Stormtrooper Knights. • Join the discussion...

All this and more, as Smile Power Day causes all sorts of people to wonder about the naughty things their neighbors have been doing, and the inmates discuss the view from their respective places in the asylum.


Ernest T. Scribbler's Unbeskorrnt Mnebeholiths: A Fanzine of Impromulgable Proportions

As of the deadline for our current challenge, we have received the following entries (listed in their order of appearance within Files > Friday Challenge 2011-06-17 ):

  • “Fanfic for the Fanzine” by Arisia

  • “Flexus Emergency” by xdpaul

  • “Jiggle Juice and Cleavage” by xdpaul

  • “Lost Time” (a.k.a. “Perils of the Internet”) by Ryan J

An enthusiastic “Huzzah” to all who have (bravely!) entered! The judges are now considering your submissions. A winner will be declared by the evening of Sunday, 19 June 2011.


Clarke's Third Law

And now it is time for this week's Friday Challenge, courtesy of Triton:

The genre of science fiction is filled with stories about strange technologies, whether they be old, new, alien, or something else entirely. The various gadgets and doo-dads are often really cool, though perhaps not always scientifically realistic. Oftentimes, the characters in the story take the stuff for granted, as if a teleportation device was no more life-altering than a musical wristwatch.

Sometimes, though, the characters don't play nice. One will occasionally come across a tale where the ordinary folk aren't quite comfortable with Dr. Genius and his new whiz-bang device. A common result is for the peasants, after reaching a suitable level of fear and hysteria, to take to their torches and pitchforks and run the good doctor out of the village. This phenomenon has been efficiently described by Arthur C. Clarke and is known as his Third Law:

Any sufficiently advanced technology
is indistinguishable from magic.

There are numerous examples of this kind of behavior in fiction. Television, in particular, is ripe with this stuff. Stargate: SG-1 practically did it every week - whenever the team arrived on some new world, the locals were almost always some pre-industrial society who took the space-faring humans for gods or witches or something. One could count on seeing this attitude from the human aliens almost as reliably as one could count on Colonel O'Neill reminding everyone around him, at least once per episode, that he was as smart as a box of rocks.

A more creative example of Clarke's Third Law would be the Technomages from Babylon 5. These are men who use technology to simulate magic. What makes this example interesting is that the Technomages are not the major characters; Babylon 5 flips the script a bit here, putting the stars of the show in the role of the relative simpletons and having the technologists play an incidental role in the overall story arc. Also, even though everyone knows that the Technomages are using technology, and not actual magic, the fact remains that they often respond to the “spells” as if they were magic, exhibiting the usual superstition-tinged emotions. Once again, Babylon 5 kicks it up a notch.

I should also point out that, sadly, Clarke's Third Law is a real-world phenomenon, not just some literary device. Some primitive peoples in third-world areas, the so-called “cargo cults”, have been known to build straw replicas of airplanes and other such idols in the hopes of currying enough favor with the gods (or ancestral spirits, or whoever) so that another crate of food and equipment might fall from the sky. For them, modern aviation is indistinguishable from the supernatural.

And it's not just the Stone Age tribes that act like this; people from advanced societies can succumb, too. Remember the Large Hadron Collider? In the days prior to its activation, there were some reasonably intelligent people from first-world nations who were certain that the LHC was going to destroy the earth, if not the entire universe. Some theories even included a religious aspect (like time-traveling demons coming to the earth from an alternate universe through wormholes created by the LHC). There were all sorts of strange predictions floating around at the time. Needless to say, catastrophe failed to materialize.

So that's this week's topic. Write a story that is based upon, or at least incorporates, Clarke's Third Law. This is a weekly challenge, so I'm setting a limit of 2000 words, but it's not a flash fiction challenge, so I'm setting a minimum of 500 words. So grab your torch and your pitchfork and show me something really cool!


Anyone can enter, except for Triton. You may enter as many times as you wish, but each entry must be independent of the others. You are not allowed to supply a more lengthy Technomage-tale in 2000-word chunks, and you are not allowed to build on anyone else's setup.

Everyone is asked to vote, and to say a few words about what they liked, and why. Or to say a few words about what they disliked, as the case may be; by submitting an entry, you implicitly agree to accept criticism, because there will probably be some handed out, and no one is immune. When voting, please rank a work as either “0” (not so good), “1” (not as bad), “2” (could have been better) or “3” (pretty good stuff!). If you give either a “0” or “3” vote, feel free to argue in support of your reasoning.

Don't like the negativity? Feel free to think of the levels as “0” (Not bad for a first attempt), “1” (Right on!), “2” (Holy cow, I wanna buy this now...) or “3” (Sweet mother of God, how did you write something this awesome?!!). The point is to clearly differentiate, and rank according to your own preference.

For the purposes of this challenge Triton will be serving as Ye Olde High Marker, Voluntarily Walking th' Plank.

As of now, we are playing by the loosely enforced and slightly modified rules of The Friday Challenge. All entries are due by 6 AM Eastern time on the morning of Friday, 24 June May 2011. A winner will be declared by the evening of Sunday, 26 June 2011.


The Thing without a Name (A Greater Challenge!)

Finally, as a reminder, there are three weeks of writing time left in our current Greater Challenge:

A little over a year ago, our founder said, "One of my deeply held beliefs is that science fiction is merely horror with an engineering degree, and that a lot of the "classic" stories of the genre are memorable not for their SF stage dressings, but for the emotional impact of their horrific stories."

We never really did anything with that, did we?

Okay, here is your chance! Think about the all things that frighten you. Think about the monsters under the bed. Think about the scary things that dwell deep down... and then show us how they tick. You can have up to 7,500 words to frighten me as much as possible. Your entry must be at least 1,000 words for me to even consider it.

For this challenge, I only want complete stories. If it's a beautiful fragment, but not convincing as a whole, it will be disqualified.


Anyone can enter. No exceptions. You may enter as many times as you wish, but each entry must be independent of the others. You are still not allowed to build on anyone else's setup... unless you receive their permission, and they agree to a collaborative effort.

All entries in this greater challenge are due by 6 AM Eastern time on the morning of Friday, 8 July 2011. A winner will be declared by the evening of Sunday, 24 July 2011. (That's approximately four three weeks in which to write, and two weeks in which to judge. Use your time well.)

Oh, there is one more thing... but it is the most important! Have fun. Always have fun.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Deadline Reminder

The deadline for the current Friday Challenge — Ernest T. Scribbler's Unbeskorrnt Mnebeholiths: A Fanzine of Impromulgable Proportions — is 6 AM Eastern time on the morning of Friday, 17 June 2011... less than twenty-four hours away.


After the challenge was posted, Ernest added two small clarifications. Here they are again, in case anyone missed them the first time:

  • If you win with a 20K word entry I might have to serialize it, but that's still within the rules.

  • If you have stuff you could sell to Asimov's, or Analog, or Fantasy and SF, or anything that will pay you money, SEND IT THERE FIRST. I can't pay you anything, and there is no way to know whether anyone will read the fanzine.

In other words, there is no cash, there might not be any glory (although infamy seems a strong possibility), and I'm not even certain "Impromulgable" is a real word. Consider yourselves duly warned.

Entries may be added to The Friday Challenge Yahoo Group (see the appropriate directory within the "Files" section), hosted on your personal blog(s) and linked within the comments for the challenge, or copied directly into the comments section as a post.

In previous challenges, we have accommodated late entries. This time, we have no such luxury; if you post an entry much later than 6 AM Eastern time, there is a chance the judges will not be able to properly consider your work. Should you anticipate a need to snowdog, please mentally back the deadline up as much as necessary. If the deadline hits and you are very, very close, please publicly announce your intention to enter.

A winner will be declared by the evening of Sunday, 19 June 2011.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Ultimate Geek Fu

What? No Ultimate Geek Fu today? Have we completely run out of geek foolery?

C'mon, folks, let's see some brainstorming action! Topics, we need topics! Coolest toy currently on thinkgeek.com? Slogan you'd most like to see on a t-shirt? Movie you'd most like to erase from existence and human memory, if you could? Best Robert Rankin book title ever? (I lean towards The Hollow Chocolate Bunnies of the Apocalypse, but only because that's the title that made me aware of Rankin.)

Don't you make me put on the shirt!

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

World Enough, And Time


So...what do you learn from Nano?

For those few latecomers who don't know, Nano is short for NanoWriMo, which is in turn short for National Novel Writer's Month.  It's a challenge to write a 50,000 word novel in the month of November.  

November is a disastrous month for Nano, no matter how you look at it.  You can't sneak away from Thanksgiving Dinner to spend some quality time with your keyboard while various family members are waiting for you to hack edible pieces off of the turkey.  That whole four-day long-weekend stretch is just so much wasted time, when it comes to writing, at least (and in all honesty, I wouldn't have it any other way; any writing plan for November needs to exclude those days right off the bat).  Beyond that, we have had a car die in the month of November practically every year.  There will always be plenty of easy excuses to NOT write.

I have tried, and failed, to reach my Nano goal for six years running.

The closest I've managed was two years ago, when I actually reached 45,000 words on November 30th, and the end of my story.

Last year was one of my worst; I don't think I reached 10,000 words.

What's the excuse for not reaching the end?  Time, of course.  There isn't enough.  There's never enough.

...and that's not a good enough excuse not to write.

How did I reach that 45,000 word mark?  By carving time out of the day by any means necessary.  I was actually lucky; the last week of November, my contract job was winding down, and there were long dead stretches waiting for the phone to ring at a temporary tech-support position.  Those stretches were perfect for opening Wordpad and scribbling down a few sentences at a time.

When the car died, I lost most of two weeks from work.  One might think that those two weeks would be perfect for getting ahead of the game...after all, this job came equipped with a near two-hour commute each way, and just removing that time-killer from the day should have given me enough time to reach my 50k goal.  Unfortunately, the stress of not getting paid was more than enough to drive all thoughts of Nano from my brain.  I literally did not write a word for two weeks, and then crammed nearly 20k of Nano into the last week of November.

Yes.  I wrote twenty thousand words in a week.

I can't say I'm proud of the quality of all of those words (though the attack by the zombie dragon was a lot of fun; you can read it here.).  There are huge chunks of that story that need to be erased from the space-time continuum and the entire buildup to the final fight with the bad guy needs to be re-thought, re-plotted, and completely re-vamped...or the story will be re-viled.

Even when it seems like there's no time...even when life seems to be totally and completely spiralling out of control, with job threatened, payroll tight, vehicles collapsing in rusted wrecks by the roadside, and all manner of Otogu disasters coming between me and my keyboard...

...I can still find the time to write twenty thousand words in a week.  It might mean going three nights in a row without sleep.  It might mean blowing my lunch hour (like I'm doing writing this column).  It might mean stressing the understanding and support from She-Who-Must-Be-Obeyed ("I'll have that fixed in a little while, babe...just let me get to the end of this next chapter!").

I have proven to myself that I can write twenty thousand words in a week.  I've shown that even with a two hour commute, and everything that life could throw at me in a single month, I still managed to come within a scant five thousand words of my goal.

That's my take-away lesson from Nano.  Even when there's no time...there still is some.  I just need to find it.

-=ad=-

Allan Davis is a writer, photographer, and database programmer hailing from the urban wilderness that is Nebraska, and who is quite willing to waste perfectly good writing time on quality time with six kids.

Alert the Fans!

Once you write something and get it published, it rarely goes completely away. Case in point: a few years ago I wrote an essay for the BenBella Books SmartPop anthology, Investigating CSI, which, as you may have guessed, concerns the CSI family of televised entertainment products.

This morning, the nice folks at BenBella Books let me know that my essay, "Alimentary, My Dear Catherine," has been selected to be this week's featured freebie on their site. Therefore, if you hurry — it goes away next Monday — you can read an outstanding example of my profound insight and incisive wit for a truly outstanding price: free!

Enjoy,
~brb

Flash Fiction Advisory

Any Drier and You’d Be Drowning

Arisia made an excellent point last week about some flash having the elements of a riddle.

That calls for careful set-up and perfect delivery.

Like a joke.

Marx Brothers screenwriter Irving Brecher got attention with a crafty bit of “nano-flash.” As an aspiring joke writer, he ran an advertisement in Variety:

“Jokes so bad, even Milton Berle wouldn’t steal them.”

This bit of fiction takes into account three particular things about Milton Berle: he was widely famous, a teller of bad gags and a notorious joke thief.

The ad worked.

Brecher got hired as a joke writer.

By Milton Berle.

Flash Fic Advisory #8: Prep the punchline. Then punch the punchline.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Ruminations of an Old Goat

My old publisher from my comic book days got in touch with me recently to tell me the Comics Buyer's Guide, the longest-running magazine about comics, had recently published a retrospective about the X-Thieves. Most of you know about the Southern Knights, the comic book I wrote for many years. I haven't discussed the X-Thieves as much, perhaps because we only had 13 issues, but I had a lot more freedom with the off-the-wall stories about a couple of thieves who could travel in both time and space.

The retrospective was only three pages long but it really was a feel-good piece for me. Who wouldn't love to read lines about their work such as, "The stories themselves were outstanding, poking fun many of the pop-culture touchstones of the day." Or, from the review of issue #4, "Vogel and Propst have hit their stride by this point, making X-Thieves one of the black-and-white seres that should have survived the bust. The biting satire and deep characterization carry the day."

I'd already been dwelling more than usual on my days of writing comic books because this fact attracted some attention at my new job. The retrospective in the magazine just added to the nostalgia for a time 25 years in the past; my glory days, some would say. And here I am, decades later, past my creative high point with no expectation of ever returning to those heights. Sort of like the guy who was Mr. Everything in high school but Mr. Nobody Special after that, my brightest days are behind me. Except that I don't believe that for a minute.

Don't get me wrong, I have very fond memories of my days writing comic books. I loved attending conventions and meeting fans from all over the country. It was certainly a fun time for me. But when I stopped writing the comic books I stopped because I ready for a break. The writing was less fun and more of a chore. Honestly, I was relieved when it all came to an end.

I gained a lot of different things from my comic writing days but the most valuable thing was the knowledge that I did it. I'm hardly the first person who, more or less out of the blue, decided he wanted to write comic books. But I didn't stop with the desire. I actually wrote comic books. A friend and I put money on the line and published the comic book. And that comic book, the Southern Knights, ran for 38 issues.

More recently, I did the same thing with storytelling. I literally came home one day and told my wife I was going to become a professional storyteller. Six months later, I received my first check for storytelling. While my calendar is hardly filled with storytelling dates, I get enough work to satisfy myself right now.

And you're all wondering exactly why I'm taking this time to pat myself on the back and congratulate myself for getting out there doing rather than dreaming. That's not really my intent, even if that is how it looks. My intent is to say that I won't spend the rest of my life wondering "What if..." I know I can write comic books because I wrote comic books. I know I can be a storyteller because I am a storyteller.

Most of you who frequent the Friday Challenge are here because you have an interest in writing. Taking part in the challenges shows a level of dedication beyond that of most would-be writers. And that's good. Writers don't think about writing, they actually write. But if you want to be a published writer, you need to take another step. You need to complete what you write and then submit your work to magazines, writing contests, anthologies, book publishers, any place which accepts submissions from writers. Then you have take your rejected works and submit them somewhere else. And submit those rejections somewhere else. And so on until you make a sale and the story appears in print. Only then are you a published writer.

But even if that never happens, as long as you give a good, honest effort to achieve the dream you will have already succeeded. You won't spend the rest of your life wondering "What if..." You'll know. And knowing makes all the difference.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

And the winner is...

Our seventh challenge sees us keeping a steady pace, as we enjoy a scattering of views through a childish lens. As four competing works vie for the favor of four voluntary judges (yes, the same four who submitted works!), we surprisingly encounter no new rules, and are amazed by a very grown up adherence to the existing rules.

If any of you are able to take a second look at your own work, and see ways in which to improve a concept so that it can be more successfully developed, the effort will have been worthwhile.

Those of you who vote are allowed to assign a range of “0” to “3” points, per entry. Since challengers may not vote for their own stories, a bonus of 2 points is given to a participant's highest-ranked work, if that participant also takes the time to vote on the other entries.

Official judges receive a 30 point allocation, to assign as they see fit. The only restriction is that at most, only half of those points may be given to any single entry, and there is no requirement for a judge to use the entire 30 point allocation.

Ryan J is about to put on the “Editor Hat.” It's sort of like the “Sorting Hat” they use at Hogwarts (“Oh Ron Weasley, you are such a child sometimes!”), but a little more nearsighted, since it can only see a maximum of 250 words.


Childhood's Lend (of an Idea or Two...)

“Enough - A Dialogue” by miko

Ryan J: I think Miko's second, longer piece was the better piece (though it might be improved further with some editing, less telling what people are thinking and more showing it), but it also was outside the word limit, so I have to ignore it. (I think it's cool that the challenge spurred a longer piece though- I wound up doing a piece longer than the original "Luck" challenge that inspired it as well. If you wind up getting inspired to write something beyond the scope of the challenge, that surely means that the intent of the Friday Challenge is being met.)

I've had conversations like this with and around my kids before- it's pretty genuine and funny. There's a stage that is very frustrating for kids, in which they know what they mean, but can't express it in a manner that adults can follow. This feels a bit like that. And having the father impishly interpret it as a philosophical statement of the problem of desire was humorous.


Arisia: 2 / miko: voted! / Triton: 1 / xdpaul: 1
Ryan J: 5
Participation bonus: 2
Total: 11



“Sock for Shark” by xdpaul

Ryan J: This was really weird. But I have to say, it is weird in the way that I am quite certain no adult mind could have produced. And that's awesome.

I was mildly distracted by the comparison of sharks to pepper and soap- that image, while a great visual that did a wonderful job of helping me see how the sharks were moving, does not seem to belong to a world of sapient sharks that fly/swim in a world that probably includes neither pepper nor soap. I think it would strengthen the atmosphere to use an image that humans could understand, but belonged to their world- like a school of fish spinning in the water or something like that.

This is the story, as far as I can tell (and it's really packed in there, no wasted words at all)- intelligent sharks have opened a portal in a glacier to another dimension, where the sharks dig up a magical sock that they use to heal the terrible injuries suffered by their Great White God-King. That is just plain awesome. That's the sort of story my son might have devised. (He's three, and this morning asked me who would win in a fight- a vampire, or a tick. They obviously belong in the same category, after all. He decided on the vampire, by the way. Because they can squish ticks)

I'm giving this a high score because I feel like xdpaul did a wonderful job shutting off the 'adult filters' that normalize our ideas before we put them to paper. Nothing normal here. Also, sharks rock.

The line "dead eyes, like a doll's eyes" seemed out of place in the piece of writing, and yet is almost a story in itself. A really scary story. I presume it is a direct quote from your source of inspiration.


Arisia: 2 / miko: 1 / Triton: 2 / xdpaul: voted!
Ryan J: 8
Participation bonus: 2
Total: 15



“Stormtrooper Knights” by Triton

Ryan J: This one was perhaps less overtly weird than the one with the sharks, but it really channeled a sense of getting lost in imagination to me. Sorry, Mr Lucas, but kids don't care about the canon. They just want to have fun. Having a legion of clone troopers brace themselves under an onslaught of 8 cylinder car people makes no sense whatsover- but that's not the point. It's too busy being awesome to notice it makes no sense. That's being lost in the world of a child's imagination, with all of our jaded filters shut off.

I'm giving this one a 10. Also, introduce the kid who inspired this to the Transformers cartoons from the 80s as soon as possible. :)


Arisia: 1 / miko: 2 / Triton: voted! / xdpaul: 3
Ryan J: 10
Participation bonus: 2
Total: 18



“The Magic Radio” by Arisia

Ryan J: I had to reread this a couple of times before I felt like I'd followed what happened- it almost seemed like the magic of the radio was to replay a missed section of the game, along with a volume knob that controlled Cynthia's volume.

I'm not totally sure who's narrating this, it seems to be a sort of third person limited omniscient. We have information on how Cythia feels- "beyond bored." We know a lot about what she thinks in the first two paragraphs. In the third we get an observation about "quality sound" that doesn't seem to fit the mind of a bored little girl.

Then we have her voice becoming even more sulky, which was even more annoying. To who? Clearly we're not in her point of view after all. Is the faceless narrator annoyed? The parent overhearing? There's nothing wrong with an omniscient point of view that allows access to the thoughts of all, but in those cases it's important to make it clear whose thoughts belong to which character.

The magic of the radio is subtle, if the magic I saw in it was what you intended- but subtle in an awesome way. I'd just suggest making it a little more clear what happened, and who owns each thought.

I just reread the last line in the context of the current horror themed greater challenge, and it freaked me out. ;)


Arisia: voted! / miko: 2 / Triton: 0 / xdpaul: 2
Ryan J: 4
Participation bonus: 2
Total: 10



Wrap-up...

Based on the numbers, a former winner made a very strong showing, but pure sugar-cereal awesome must have been fueling the imagination of our new champion:

2nd Place: 15 points — “Sock for Shark” by xdpaul

1st Place: 18 points — “Stormtrooper Knights” by Triton

Congratulations, Triton! As winner, you are hereby invited to propose next week's challenge, scheduled to be announced the morning of Friday, 17 June 2011.


Afterword...

So what was the lesson of this challenge?

Ryan J: All of the participants submitted something appropriate to the challenge. I felt like two were immersed in the imaginative world of a child, while two seemed to be a more adult perspective on a child's world. Both approaches address the challenge, I just thought it was interesting how the approaches were distributed.

What lesson can we learn from this whole exercise? I'm tempted to say that there's no lesson intended- like lots of things children do, there doesn't have to be a point as long as you are having fun. But that's a lesson. And not a bad one- I think it's important not to lose the sense of fun that I presume got most of us interested in telling stories in the first place. And it's not a bad idea to turn off our 'grown up' filters once in a while. We have them for a reason- most of the crazy stuff they filter out is filtered for a good reason. But once in a while, I think if we let something quirky get past them, something that we'd forgotten was awesome because we're so busy being grownups, it will liven our writing. Or at least, make it memorable. And that's important too.

Konfessions of a Kindle Konvert


My plan for this morning was to do a side-by-side review of two identical newspapers, and the comparative experiences of downloading and reading them on the Kindle and Nook. Unfortunately, I live out here in cow country, where Internet service is provided by a subsidiary of the Ma & Pa Kettle Phone Company, and I was not able to do so for the very good reason that this morning, my Internet service went out again.

Typically, this is caused by someone missing a turn up on the highway and plowing his pickup trunk into one of the phoneco's strategically positioned junction boxes. The service came back up faster than usual this time, though, so the cause must have been something else.

Therefore, this afternoon, I would like to raise some philosophical points. Maybe it's a mistake to consider the various e-book readers strictly as electronic devices with assorted merits and drawbacks. Perhaps it's better to think of these things as merely the intrusions into local space/time of vast pan-dimensional information supply systems, with the quality of the user experience being highly dependent on the quality and reliability of the supply chain that streams bits to your local device.

I do believe in free and shareware content. I am a great fan of Project Gutenberg and the Baen Free Library, and was an active supporter of the fiction archive at infinityplus.co.uk while it was still active. But, let's be realistic for a moment: most people who buy these devices are not going to go to the time and trouble of finding content online, downloading it to their computer, and then porting it over to their e-book reader. Most will get the majority of their content from whichever vast pan-dimensional beast their device connects to by default.

Which immediately removes some devices from serious consideration. They may have interesting technical specifications and bang-for-buck out the wazoo, but without an easy way to find and download new content, they become irrelevant. Likewise, the financial health of the parent-beast becomes a consideration: do you really want to buy a device that's umbilically connected to a bookstore chain that might get bought, reorganized, or forced into bankruptcy next year?

As for all you concerned Libertarians who lay awake nights worrying about whose thumb is on the Internet "kill switch": what does that do to your prospects for getting long-term enjoyment out of your chosen e-book reader?

Finally, as for the rest of us: I'm not quite sure, but I do believe that I have a profound antipathy to the idea that in the future, my ability to sit down and enjoy a cup of coffee and the Sunday paper will be controlled by some drunk and his ability to drive home from the bar safely on Saturday night.

But then, that's always been the case, hasn't it?

Saturday, June 11, 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, June 10, 2011

The Friday Challenge — 6/10/2011

This week in The Friday Challenge:

Science Fiction and Fantasy Authors mourn one of their own. Goodbye, Joel Rosenberg, and thank you. • Join the (respectful) discussion...

Bruce Bethke visits the dark side, and finds it user-friendly. • Join the discussion...

Bruce Bethke analyzes the implications of modern religion. • Join the discussion...

Bruce Bethke links comic books and film, and the various incarnations of each. Sadly, no one bothers to mention Dave Cockrum's Futurians. • Join the discussion...

Daniel Eness links Frank Stockton and Emily Brontë. There's a first for everything. • Join the discussion...

Ernest T. Scribbler wins the That's Infotainment! challenge, in an inexplicable display of death-defying dominance. No, seriously. Death-defying dominance. • Join the discussion...

All this and more, as M celebrates Name Your Poison Day by baking a seven-pepper-and-Thai-chicken pizza, and the inmates discuss the view from their respective places in the asylum.


Childhood's Lend (of an Idea or Two...)

As of the deadline for our current challenge, we have received the following entries (listed in their order of appearance within Files > Friday Challenge for 6 10 2011):

  • “Enough - A Dialogue” by miko

  • “Sock for Shark” by xdpaul

  • “Stormtrooper Knights” by Triton

  • “The Magic Radio” by Arisia

An enthusiastic “Huzzah” to all who have entered! The judges are now considering your submissions. A winner will be declared by the evening of Sunday, 12 June 2011.


Ernest T. Scribbler's Unbeskorrnt Mnebeholiths: A Fanzine of Impromulgable Proportions

And now it is time for this week's Friday Challenge, courtesy of Ernest T. Scribbler:

Over the years, I've slogged through any number of rejection slips, and been mucked amongst any volume of slush, yet I've never lost my love for the first passion of my unnaturally extended life: Sadie Louise Gorschwitz. I've also never lost my love for that other great passion: Scientifiction. Well, that's what Uncle Hugo wanted to call it. As a moniker it stunk, but it was memorable.

The one thing I've never tried my hand at was outright publication. Hocking pulps? Sure. Schlocking scripts? You betcha. But serving as an editor? I never had the gumption, umption, or inclination, until now.

I am going to begin publishing a scientifiction fanzine. It will include whatever I dern well please, including fiction. I make no claim that any of it will be good, but I can pretty much guarantee it will at least be different.

So what do I want you to do? Write the stinkin' story that you always wanted to read but that no one was ever willing to publish. If I like it, I will. No limits, length or otherwise, aside from an avoidance of slander or anything that would put me on a federal watch list. (I'm not going to make any money doing this, and I'm doing well to afford the one Krispy Kreme a week that gives me complimentary internet access, so I can't pay you.)


As of now, we are playing by the loosely enforced and slightly modified rules of The Friday Challenge. All entries are due by 6 AM Eastern time on the morning of Friday, 17 June 2011. A winner will be declared by the evening of Sunday, 19 June 2011.

(Given the nature of Ernest's challenge, our normal voting procedure may result in a numeric victor — and public opinion will still be recognized — but it may not affect his decision about which selection to publish. So be it! Go nuts, folks.)


The Thing without a Name (A Greater Challenge!)

Finally, having re-established ourselves, it is time to initiate a new Greater Challenge:

A little over a year ago, our founder said, “One of my deeply held beliefs is that science fiction is merely horror with an engineering degree, and that a lot of the "classic" stories of the genre are memorable not for their SF stage dressings, but for the emotional impact of their horrific stories.”

We never really did anything with that, did we?

Okay, here is your chance! Think about the all things that frighten you. Think about the monsters under the bed. Think about the scary things that dwell deep down... and then show us how they tick. You can have up to 7,500 words to frighten me as much as possible. Your entry must be at least 1,000 words for me to even consider it.

For this challenge, I only want complete stories. If it's a beautiful fragment, but not convincing as a whole, it will be disqualified.


Anyone can enter. No exceptions. You may enter as many times as you wish, but each entry must be independent of the others. You are still not allowed to build on anyone else's setup... unless you receive their permission, and they agree to a collaborative effort.

All entries in this greater challenge are due by 6 AM Eastern time on the morning of Friday, 8 July 2011. A winner will be declared by the evening of Sunday, 24 July 2011. (That's approximately four weeks in which to write, and two weeks in which to judge. Use your time well.)

Oh, there is one more thing... but it is the most important! Have fun. Always have fun.
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