Tuesday, December 27, 2016

The Occasional Demon

About a week ago I was making good headway on a new fantasy short. I was twenty-two handwritten pages into the manuscript when something terrible happened. I lost a friend. No, not by death, but willful separation. 2016 was a bitter year, and I was foolish enough to think that I'd get out of it untouched by the election fallout. Despite the Facebook rants and riots in the streets, I thought it wouldn't touch me like it has.

As a result, my work stopped cold. Even now the draft sits unfinished. My enthusiasm hasn't gone, only the will and proper mindset to work on it immediately. For the past few years I've been devoted almost singularly to science fiction and fantasy. I wrote the occasional historical short, maybe a poem or two when I felt like nothing else. Every time I deviated, I quickly retreated back to the exotic and the fantastical. I never thought of myself as a literary writer, though I enjoy reading literary fiction. I always felt more at home among the stars and dragons of my imagination.

But every now and again the occasional demon will disrupt the magic, distort the illusion, and I'm forced to reckon with reality. Fact: I used to have a good friend. Fact: They severed our friendship because of political differences.  Fact: It hurts.

No matter how hard I tried, these facts wouldn't go away. I couldn't think of anything else. I don't like leaving things half-done, but I knew I wouldn't be able to continue unless I tackled the subject. So, I wrote a different story, eighteen pages long, based on a real incident in my not-too-distant past. I had to capture the feelings that were possessing me: frustration, sadness, indignation, and confusion. I won't know if I succeeded until I start editing later this week. I hope so. It wasn't easy.

Literary fiction has always been one of my great weaknesses. I just don't think I have the stuff to make stories about real people in the real world interesting. Hemingway did. Steinbeck did. Lee did. They were masters of observation, and their experiences taught them a lot about the human condition, which informed their writing. Me? I'm a young conservative white guy who's lived a peaceful existence. No wars, divorces, child abuse, or great struggles against the powers that be. I've met some neat people and seen some amazing things, but I'm pretty ordinary.

Reading and writing have always been ways to escape from reality because in spite of my education and insight, I don't always understand it. And if that's true, how can I write something about it people will enjoy or learn from? Will they come away having identified with my characters, and by extension, my life? I'm terrible at writing about things that actually happened to me. Life isn't exciting, for the most part. As a historian and a writer I'm often paralyzed by the thought of inventing things to make the past more exciting or meaningful. It go against every bit of academic training I've ever had. Thus, I'm confronted with a problem that can only be solved by a skill I do not possess.

It's an interesting dilemma, and I'm eager to find a solution. Lucky for me, I have a tool to help.

A very Merry belated Christmas to you all, and a Happy New Year.

Power to the pen, even if it's unsure of what to write next.

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Now That I'm Relaxed...

Now that the election is over I can relax and come back to this much-neglected blog. The truth is I didn't have anything to say. In light of my own Re:Fiction article on blogging I've had second thoughts about what I write about here (excluding typewriters of course, but I don't add machines to the fleet often enough to post about that regularly). It's hard not updating this blog every week like I used to. Serious amateurs and professionals will post two or three times a week (but most usually have a lot more going on in their lives/jobs that makes constant content possible).

As such, I've waited this long to make sure I have writing-related things to talk about.

First, look for my short story The Curse of Horace Jonah in Bards and Sages January 2017! I've sold many pieces to them, but until now they've all been for anthologies. This will mark my debut in their quarterly magazine. I usually don't return to the world of a short story. Horace began as a contest entry that was done at a furious pace, got shortlisted, but ultimately lost. I tried selling it to other fantasy magazines (curious how there are not a lot of children's fantasy magazines that will accept stories over 800 words...), and when B&S bought it, I thought I was finally done. But this character was too much fun not to expand upon. Ideas for sequels started forming and I made notes accordingly.

Then, I did something that I thought I would never ever do. Since my bought with JRA a decade ago, I swore off handwriting whenever possible. It's hard on the wrist and fingers (namely the thumb joint). But while I was in Texas over the holiday weekend, a new Horace Jonah story started fighting, desperately trying to break out. All I had was a spiral notebook I use for ideas and plotting. I'd written a flash piece in it, but a full-length short? I tried to suppress the urge. Tried to content myself with reading. I even tried lecturing it. You stay right there! I'll deal with you in a minute! But it was impossible. One morning, I sat down and started handwriting a new tale.

I thought I would switch to the typewriter once I got home, but curiously enough, I was unwilling to abandon the mental track I was on. I was afraid that switching mid-draft would somehow jar me, interrupt the flow. Truth was, I managed at least two, sometimes three pages a day (barring headaches, fatigue, other obligations, etc.). Could it be I was going so slow that I didn't have opportunity to be blocked?

Six days and thirty-three pages later Horace Jonah and the Legendary Fox is complete! First draft, but I feel really good about myself right now. I've just proven that if the worst happened, if some maniac broke in and stole my collection of typewriters (or if the house burned down), I could go to Dollar Tree, grab a notebook and a pen, and start over.

I really really don't want that to happen, but...the work will continue.

Now I'm entertaining a crazier idea. My science fiction story At the Edge of Life has been deadlocked for months now. Numerous false starts. Can't make up my mind who should be the protagonist. POV is all over the place. Can't seem to make it work no matter what I do! Would going really really slow help me unblock it? At Courtney's suggestion, I've started using a daily planner to help balance my work goals so I don't get overwhelmed by the thought of not writing enough. I'll be dipped, it's working!

Speaking of Courtney, she and I went on yet another book-hunting expedition. Among other titles, we came home with a collection of H.P. Lovecraft stories. This is a writer I've sadly neglected until now, though he has my respect. Hard to knock a guy who sold everything he wrote to pulps and died before he could break out and go mainstream. It's a fate I fear myself. As Harlan Ellison said, "Every writer is trying to beat the clock, to write that one story posterity will remember them for." Lovecraft certainly did that.

Before leaving Texas, mother-in-law gave us some early X-mas money. I thought I might be able to snag the Remington KMC from the local antique store with the double Gothic font. It was gone. Disgruntled, I decided to take a quick look around and see if there were any newcomers.

Lo and behold...

I probably wouldn't have gotten the machine if I was unable to talk the guy down from $90 to $60. I pointed out that the machine didn't have the top half of its case, which would make safe transport and storage difficult. Also snagged a first edition copy of Michale Crichton's novel Eaters of the Dead while there. Serial number V689754 puts this machine around 1934-35.

This came on the coat tails of my other great find.

One of my earliest typewriter finds was a wide carriage KMM with a Sedalia sticker. Sadly, it went missing after a trip to the repairman and I've never gotten over it until now. What are the odds that a machine in the 1930s would have survived until now with all of its decals intact? It's a tad blemished in other places, but works great. Currently waiting on platen recovery and then it needs a typeface alignment.

As you can see, I have a lot to be thankful for, and that doesn't require a single holiday.

Power to the pen!

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Persistence is Key, and the Key to Writing

About two years ago I wrote a short story. I had a novel idea forming and wanted to test some of the characters. If you've been reading this blog since 2014, you know it was called "After Their Kind," and deals with sentient animal societies that have arisen in the wake of humankind. I thought it was a pretty good story. 4200 words. Some action to go with the mystery. And the characters were not "furries," they were real animals.

I thought it was a good story, but it racked up seven rejections over the course of almost a year (owing to most magazines' policy against simultaneous submissions). As I kept writing and better stories came out I started to think "After Their Kind" was unsellable, and I wasn't so desperate that I was going to give it away for nothing. I went on to sell "The Nimrod Lexicon," "The Black Lady," and "The Voice of Thunder." I've got a dozen more in circulation right now.

Then one day I hopped onto Submission Grinder and noticed a new anthology was advertising: "The Dogs of War." An anthology dedicated to animals in military situations? It was practically tailored to my story! I read over the manuscript and made some minor revisions before sending it off in July. I got the acceptance letter yesterday. It won't pay much, but people will read it!

Professional fiction writing is only for the patient and persistent. And the key to writing is to write. Was I sad by the thought of being unable to sell what I thought was a perfectly good story? Yes, but not crushed. I had more stories coming out, and each one was better than the last in some way. I was getting personal rejections from one or two editors at major magazines. Hopefully in the coming years I can change those into acceptances too.

I learned some important lessons from this experience. One, never throw away old work, even if it doesn't sell immediately. Two, keep writing. Seriously. It's so simple it's stupid. Stupid simple. By continuing to write, you will eventually solve every problem that your fiction currently has. Brandon Sanderson once said that the writers who succeed are usually the ones that are moderately talented but unlike the lazy or the super geniuses, they don't quit.

That doesn't make it any easier when you get nothing but rejections for seven months, or you have to restart that one short story idea you love because the first three beginnings left you blocked.

Keep writing. There's no other way but forward.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Where Writers Fear to Tread

While enjoying Labor Day weekend I indulged in my guilty pleasure and read some reviews from the Goodreads Worst Books list. One entry in particular caught my eye: the Halo trilogy by Alexandra Adornetto. These books (published between 2010-2012) tell the story of an angel named Bethany who is sent to Earth as part of a divine mission. Her goal? Protect people from the dark forces that threaten them.

There were a lot of people who liked these books, but a fair number who didn't. Among the most frequently echoed criticisms were:

- These angels are useless. Why'd they get sent to a first-world country when millions are dying of hunger and civil wars?

- The rules of the angelic society are not well-defined.

- Bethany is selfish, whiny, and refuses to take responsibility. She's not the kind of angel I envision.

- These books get everything about Christianity wrong and the morality that is presented is forced down the reader's throat.

- This is the Catholic version of Twilight.

After many many good laughs, I started thinking about the fact that I have never written stories featuring angels or other celestial creatures.


Simple: I don't know how God works.

Angels have always captivated mankind. The Bible, Koran, Apocrypha, and Jewish traditions have many fascinating stories about them. Naturally, fiction writers (namely Christian writers) have used them in their own work.

Are they worth writing about? Sure. They're amazing.

Yet, if you read the Bible from front to finish, you'll find that God used human prophets or direct conversation through dreams and visions much more frequently than angels.

There's the big issue: What makes God look at the world and think "Hm, better get Clarance on this one."

Today's angelic fiction just doesn't appeal to me. It's a vein of fantasy. Good vs evil. Epic battles. Constantine-like stuff. Those stories are fine, but writing them has never been a priority. Some of these franchises (namely Spawn) go the extreme and convey that there is no difference between angels and demons except the color of their robes. They reduce the eternal battle for the fate of mankind to a pointless numbers game, not a grand plan to save God's ultimate creation from sin. It gets more and more confusing when you try to digest the "rules" authors try to put on angels.

And it's at that point I'd ask, "Why bother writing the story?"

Maybe it's my Christian upbringing and lifestyle that makes it hard to divorce the creatures from the context of their existence.

But besides all of that, why do angel stories today have to involve a physical battle against a demon? Sometimes a person's greatest enemy is themselves.

It's A Wonderful Life is an angel story done right, and it endures to this day for a reason. Clarence might be sent to help George Bailey, but it's still George Bailey's story. Clarence's powers, by today's standards, are tame. He just gives a man a different perspective when that's what he needs the most, not drawing a flaming sword to fight the legions of Hell. Even with divine influence, it is still George Bailey who has to make the decision, who cries out, "I want to live again."

 Eh, this isn't my best post. Just a bit of what's on my mind.

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Missouri is A Little Bit Freer

I didn't expect the Congress to overturn Nixon's veto, but they did. Starting January 1, 2017, residents of this fine state (19 and older, no rap sheet) will be able to carry a concealed firearm without obtaining a permit. Not only is this a gain for personal freedom, but it's also a huge relief for those of us who don't make a lot of money. Courtney and I spent at least $200 on the classes alone, and that's not including another $100 each for applicable processing fees (every sheriff's clerk I've talked to says their system is backlogged with requests and applications). Then, there's a renewal fee every five years. This isn't cool for someone squeaking by on $1600 a month. Now think about the young college kids who don't have money. People in gang-infested ghettos. They can carry too. And the single parents. They can use that money for other things.

Not only is this a blow in favor of freedom, but it is a test. Missourians will now have to show the world that we can be responsible without a permission slip. Should you get training regardless of the new law? Absolutely! Carrying a gun is not something to take lightly, but I'm very happy knowing that my legislatures decided to put a little more trust in me and my countrymen.

Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, Maine, Montana, Wyoming, West Virginia, and now Missouri have put that trust in their people and axed their permit system.

Do your lawmakers trust you?

But if anyone from Missouri is reading this blog, please, do NOT blow this!

Sunday, September 11, 2016

What Can I Say?

I don't really know what to say on this mournful day. Fifteen years ago I was in 7th grade and didn't even know what the World Trade Center was. I could talk about the brief moment when we as a nation and people united in our grief. I could talk about Afghanistan, Iraq, and the conspiracy theories. I could talk about the loss of our freedoms under the Patriot Act. I could talk about a lot.
But I keep thinking about the children who lost their fathers and mothers. They've grown. Some are adults. Some are teenagers. I want to see what they've done in spite of being directly hit by the worst tragedy of the century.

I want to know if we truly learned anything from 9/11, except how to write country songs.

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

My Work Appears on Re:Fiction!


I highly recommend that you take a look at this website if you're needing help with your creative writing endeavors. Stay tuned to this page, more articles by yours truly will be appearing soon!

It feels good to contribute.

Saturday, August 27, 2016

Anyone know German?

While at the antique store a few weeks ago, I came across this really old book. For four dollars, I couldn't resist.

It's like I've found a lost Tolkien manuscript! Not sure why the newspaper was there...

Penmanship was much more important to those who were educated, and this guy clearly had a steady hand (probably several hours of good instruction too). That German script is so gorgeous, but as you can tell from the last picture, some of the pages were torn out. Only ten pages of text remain and the rest are blank.

Before I put my own pen to these pages, I'd like to have the diary portion translated. I'm not sure what the cover is made of, but the paper and binding are really nice.

Anybody know someone who's fluent?

Friday, August 19, 2016

Writer Intent and Story Reception

I have a guilty pleasure. I enjoying reading one-star reviews on popular books, even if I like the book itself. They're hilarious. I'm guaranteed a good laugh every time. Amazon is nice, but Goodreads is becoming my new favorite place. They have a large collection of various "worst of" lists. Books Featuring the Worst Female Protagonist. Books that I Hated but Everyone Else Liked. Most Disappointing Books of All Time. Etc.

Two franchises dominate the top ten on each one of these lists: Twilight and Fifty Shades of Grey.

We can credit these two series for birthing a new type of "classic" work: Infamous. It's been nearly ten years since the first Twilight book came out, and five years since Fifty Shades began. And yet, people are still coming out with their thoughts and reviews in huge numbers.

The Harry Potter books got incredible publicity, and I never thought I'd see any work of fiction top the sensationalism the way these two have. Instead of talking about the books themselves, I want to discuss people's reactions to them and muse on what might have happened if things had been a little different.

Twilight has been derided as the worst pandering-to-girls fantasy of all time. When summarizing the franchise, Doug Walker ("The Nostalgia Critic") said, "If you sacrifice nothing, do nothing, play off your friends as boy toys, you can live happily ever after as the blood-sucking demon you are."

Stephanie Myer believed she was writing a compelling love story, and has defended her characters against critics. People have accused her everything from terrible writing, annoying characters, and promoting an abusing relationship with a controlling partner as a desirable life goal.

The sad fact is that many people in our society do live in fantasies, some even worse than Bella Swan's (they call it American Idol for a reason). I understand people's concerns about the books, especially after a number of sensational reports came out detailing how the more rabid members of the fan base would physically assault people who didn't like it (something Potter fans never did, to my knowledge).

Yet, I can't help but wonder how people might have reacted if Myer had stated from the get-go that writing a fantasy was her objective? In other words, what if she had said, "I see girls doing terrible things in their lives and wanted to write a story about a troubled teen who can't let go of her imagined world."

What if Bella Swan was emotionally disturbed, and created Edward, Jacob, and the others as a means of coping? We all do this to some extent. I had imaginary friends to talk to when I was alone or depressed...but only as a young child. Some people never grow out of it and react poorly when their behavior is challenged.

If Meyer had written the books this way, would Twilight have been praised as a work of genius or would people still hate it? We'll never know, but personally, I think that would have made it more interesting.

Fifty Shades surprised me, not only because it was inspired by Twilight, but because it became even more sensational. This one's been beaten to death as cheap, pornographic filth that also promotes a harmful message to women: if the sex is good, who cares if the relationship is broken?

The books opened a can of worms on American sexuality, something we want to do without restraints, but at the same time, with some restraints (even if we can't articulate them beyond "consenting adults behind closed doors"). It's one of our better paradoxes. Some praised it for bringing kink out into the open and even called it liberating, while others waved the bloody shirt of female chastity and said it would destroy the world.

But again, what if E.L. James did it on purpose? We know that's not true. Like the vampire novels that inspired it, Fifty Shades is supposed to be taken seriously as a love story. But, what if it was meant to be a case study? What if it was meant to show (in an over-the-top manner) how people can get into destructive relationships and how hard it is to get out? This would have been the case if the story ended with book one when Anastasia breaks her contract, but no...she marries the jerk in book three (I cheated and read the synopses).

If anything, these books are a product of their times. Our society made it possible for them to exist and enjoy runaway success. We still love to get wild and flustered about books that women and teens are reading, and it's hard to understand why because we believe so many contradictory things. Is it art? Technically. Is art subjective? Yes. Will it destroy the world? Probably not, but it's funny to watch people fight over it.

It's said that if people hate your work, you've done something right. I think we're still trying to figure out what that "right" is in both cases. There has to be a lesson for us somewhere.

Power to the pen!

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

"Nimrod Lexicon" is in an Audiobook!

Just got it in today.

Head on over to Audible and listen to Section 24!

This is very surreal, listening to someone else read my story. With no words on the screen in front of me, I was reminded how powerful oral storytelling is, and though "Nimrod" isn't my best work, I found myself thinking, "This is better than I remember."

I knew this was going to happen...but I somehow forgot about it, so it came as a great surprise!

Monday, August 15, 2016

New Opportunities

I've discovered that working hard and earnestly hoping for things to change won't do you a bit of good unless you keep your nose to the wind for the chance to make change happen. Since the market for museum workers has all but dried up (especially in the organization where I am now), I've decided to pursue teaching college online. Unfortunately, my MA did not provide me with the 18 credit hours needed to get a job doing so. That means I'll need to take another history class this fall. As luck would have it, I was able to get accepted into Murray State University right as the deadline looms. All that's left is to sign up for the class itself and I'll be good to go! Glad I finished my novella in July. For the next ten weeks I might not be able to even manage a short story...

Speaking of writing, I'm very pleased to announce that I am now a contributor for the website Re:Fiction! I saw a call for submissions on the Paying Market section of Absolute Write, and even though they rejected the article I sent them they were so impressed that they offered me a chance to do a series on publishing! It's still in the developmental stage, so keep your eyes peeled!

I never thought I'd do paid non-fiction work. It's a great chance to flex the old brain muscles (and the extra money doesn't hurt). I love inventing stories, but I've had a devil of a time selling anything. The pieces I have in circulation have been waiting for over three months and I have yet to get an agent interested in seeing the complete manuscript of "Lightwitch." Oh well, just another day at the office.

But while thinking about my work and how far I've come, a thought struck me. My first novel "The Eclipse Chronicles/Lunar Dawn," was rejected by everyone I sent it to (except a Canadian e-book publisher but we won't discuss that here...). It might be a trick of memory, but I seem to recall getting more personal rejections from agents and editors then, in the early 2000s, than I am now when pitching a better book. My early writing was passionate, but flawed in every way conceivable. My new writing is passionate, but much more carefully crafted.

So, did my passion get more attention from people back then?

Does that mean I'm holding back with my new stuff? Have I somehow become corrupted by years of rejections, peer feedback, and hours of forum discussion on what's a good yarn?

At least I've got something to think about on this rainy day.

Power to the pen!

Sunday, August 7, 2016

Typewriters in Bookstores!

I'm tired.

Spent a week on holiday in Dallas, TX.

Saw some neat eye candy at a Half-Price Books.

Saw some funny pics in a men's bathroom at a BBQ joint.

Have fun.

Saturday, July 23, 2016

Typewriters in Fiction: The Lost Weekend

Life's recent chaos has left me little time to read, but I finally managed to get through The Lost Weekend. A review of this book might be forthcoming, but for now, I thought it'd be nice to share some quotes from the text about typewriters. In the 1945 film adaptation starring Ray Milland, the character Don Birnam uses a Remington #2 portable (see my post here for more on the movie). While in the book, the machine is never specified beyond the Remington name, I chuckled at these gems:

Page 96:

He went into the bedroom and began packing up his Remington portable: got the dusty case out from under the desk, set the machine inside, hit the spacer a few times till it was centered and would fit, and closed the cover.

Page 102:

What fiend ever gave the name portable to a portable. It was a dead weight that dragged you down, held you back, it pulled your arm out of the shoulder-socket, it fixed you fast to one spot on the sidewalk. It was a solid block of lead, but lead that would become pure gold if you could drag it far enough.

Page 105:

He gazed through the glass...There was a portable typewriter plastered with the peeling souvenirs of European travel.

Just out for a bit of typing in the park.
Hm...little heavy, for an Underwood.

Oh jeeze, this Olympia's KILLING ME!

Anybody got similar passages they'd like to share?

Power to the pen!

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Sunday, July 10, 2016

Triumph Tippa: My Ultraportable of Choice

Yes, I flipped the ribbon on purpose. When set to black, certain characters tend to ghost or smear.
On red setting, none of those problems persist. Odd.
My Lettera 32 is great. I've typed thousands upon thousands of words on it. But sometimes, it just doesn't feel portable enough. The leather case offers no real protection against being dropped or things being dropped on it (and you know it's a good day when the zipper still works...).

My Hermes Baby is also great. It's in near-perfect cosmetic condition and for only $30. Lightweight and could easily fit in a book bag. However, it incorporates a universal bar. The keys on the outer edges of the keyboard require a disproportionate amount of force to make a clear impression on the paper. Q A S W Z PL . and , are always lighter than the others, even with a new ribbon. This wouldn't be such a bad thing if I wasn't going to scan the document into the computer, but print quality affects how many errors will be in the digitized manuscript. 

So I started looking for an ultraportable that would have a better case and better typing action. I was lined up to trade for an Adler Tippa 1 over Facebook when the deal fell through. I wasn't happy, but I wasn't eager to buy the first good deal that came my way, either. I found this Triumph on eBay within an hour's drive from me, and since I had to go for a followup with the surgeon the next week, I threw out an offer and the rest is history. The seller got it at an estate sale, so she didn't know anything about the machine's past. I'm pretty sure it hasn't seen much use.

A bit dirty...

The serial number puts it around 1967-68. The keyboard action is springy, like a Lettera 22. The bell is loud and the carriage return is butter smooth. It has a paper guide and a paper support (which I always like to have). There's no touch control or tabulator. But you get a ribbon selector. I think it's a fair trade.

The only downside is that this machine will not accept two sheets of paper at the same time (my Baby is the same way). One always gets caught in the platen and the other feed through. I always want to protect my platen, but when I turned over a sheet after typing, I saw and felt no deep impressions except the punctuation. Either the platen is still good or this machine just hits light. A final oddity is that it's possible to short-stroke the space bar if you don't hit it hard enough. The bar must be depressed at least three fourths of the way before the carriage will advance. I don't foresee any speed typing on this, but it'll get the job done if you pace yourself.

This typewriter has all the good features for a machine you want to take on a long weekend, when you may or may not have the time to write a letter or short story. Is the Lettera better built? Debatable. It has more features and smaller font, but the Triumph doesn't disappoint. Throw it into a backpack, saddlebag, or carryon luggage.

Power to the pen!

Monday, June 27, 2016

The Inconsistency of Men

Pope Francis keeps stirring up controversy. He was quoted by the BBC and a myriad of other sources saying that Catholics should apologize to gays, the poor, and anyone else they have maligned.


One of the main reasons I reject Catholicism is the simple fact that God doesn't change and I will always put what the Bible says above any other man, religious or otherwise. Yet, the Pope is supposed to be His vassal on Earth who speaks on His behalf. Francis has been hailed as the Pope of change, the one who will "reform" the church. People respect consistency, no matter what you believe, and the Facebook comments are showing not everyone believes him to be sincere. Comments like, "He's just saying that because church membership and donations have dropped," or, "Isn't this like a cop being forced to apologize to a speeder he ticketed even though it's still against the Highway Code?" and my favorite, "His apologies are in vogue. The internet is turning his flock into a generation of rational thinkers."

Let's all stop and laugh at that one for a second.

Alexis de Tocqueville once wrote, "...there can be no literary genius without freedom of opinion, and freedom of opinion does not exist in America." He goes on to say in the same book that even those who vote against measures in the legislature will abandon their position and join the majority if they are defeated. (Further reading here).

Since the Supreme Court decision and the Orlando shooting, I've read a lot of comments maligning Christianity. A lot. Religion in general is, it seems, viewed as a great evil. The bishop of the diocese in Florida said that religion was responsible for the climate of hate that gays have suffered (and the ACLU posted its ridiculous opinion blaming Christians for the shooting itself). He's right...and wrong. Ill-practiced religion has contributed to discrimination and hate, but there are also millions of Christians who have never waved picket signs or spat in people's faces, just like there are gays who've never berated me for "living in the Bronze Age." 

So, why are these men who supposedly believe in the Bible as the literal word of God taking the initiative and saying, "It's all our fault"? 

What I fear (and it may prove to be unfounded) is that they are establishing a mindset for their fellow believers: "In order to talk about this, you must first abandon any pretext that your faith is just and correct, as well as abandon your right to it. Apologize, because a bunch of people who came before you did some bad things."

Debates shouldn't have an initiation rite, and the only person you should have to defend before scrutiny is yourself.

Wouldn't it be a better use of energy if we just, I don't know, stuck to our beliefs and at the same time treated everyone as we wanted to be treated, living in peace with all men? (Matt. 7:12, Romans 12:18, Hebrews 12:14). Can we believe the other person is wrong on an issue without letting it polarize us so much?

Or is that possible in today's world of the accept-at-all-costs dogma?

I don't pretend to know.

Sunday, June 19, 2016

The Lost Weekend

My arm is going to be in a splint for five more weeks, only allowed out for exercises and cleaning. It seems they did a lot more work on me than I realized. They had to detach a section of my tricep and reattach it elsewhere, and that means I can't turn my wrist for any reason. One-handed typing for another month. I had taken a two week break from my new novel project while I recovered from the operation. Wish I had known my arm would be out for longer, I'd have resumed after a few days. Only twenty pages in, so I feel the need to catch up. I am squeaking out two or three pages a day, which is very low output for me.

Meanwhile, I've been reading an excellent book: Farther and Wilder, by Blake Bailey, the life and career of the American writer Charles Jackson.

Jackson's most notable work is his 1944 novel The Lost Weekend. Based almost entirely on his own life, it follows the story of Don Birnam, whose drunken shenanigans are reaching new lows (so much that he steals money to afford booze). It was an instant hit, selling hundreds of thousands of copies. No one had done a story about a drunk outside the realm of comedy. The publisher worried if people would respond to it. But the 1945 film adaptation starring Ray Milliard was also a huge hit. In one letter, Jackson told a friend that "I'm not good at make-believe." Meaning, he could not easily invent stories from thin air. All of his work was grounded in real life events. I have the opposite problem. I almost never use real life as the basis of a narrative. My life has had some excitement in it to be sure, but I'm not good (nor interested) in writing those long boring vignettes that so often appear in today's lit magazines. Maybe I just haven't tried hard enough.

But the biggest takeaway from the book thus far is how a writer can be his own worst enemy. I won't elaborate too much here, but Jackson had an ego and a spending problem. His family suffered negligence and were crushed under mountains of debt multiple times in his career.

Lesson? Don't get your priorities mixed up.

More next week, if I can manage it.

Monday, June 13, 2016

Recent Reads

I've made it though quite a few books since Jan 1. Here are some I've read, both the good ones and not-so-good.

I'd heard the name Saul Bellow in discussion about Nobel Prize winners and how you should never ever compare your work to theirs in a query letter. Herzog about a middle-aged Jewish man who's just come out of a nasty second divorce. His sanity is questionable, but not completely gone. Fair enough premise. The writing, meanwhile, is dense. Herzog writes imaginary letters to people in order to stay stable. The text jumps from three different POVs: the narrator, Herzog in first person, and Herzog's letters. The second half of the novel isn't quite as littered with italic text as the first, but its not an easy book to read. Therefore, I honestly didn't enjoy it much.

From confusing to downright depressing! This book tells of a trouble Navajo girl in a women's prison and the male doctor who is charged with her care. Published in the 1970s, this book is about as anti-white as it gets. It's a dark story about a corrupt and broken justice system. It's written in the form of a long diary from said doctor. There are no chapter breaks, which really drives home the theme of loneliness and isolation. The book has a genuine feel of progress every time the two main characters connect, but it also has the WORST ENDING I've read in a long long time. I'll spare you the trouble. Hatter Fox gets run over by a bus, although she was expertly dodging traffic the day before. I don't always want a classic "happy" ending, but this just felt like a cop-out to me.

I love Michener's work, but who'd have thought he would write a short book? The MC is going to testify before Congress on his role in the Iran-Contra affair. His defense lawyer plans to use his family's "legacy" (Get it? Get it? See what he did there? The title is important!) to convince everyone that he's a patriot. Each member of the family plays an important role in America's critical moments: the Revolution, writing the Constitution, the Civil War, the women's suffrage movement, and civil rights. It was ok, I guess. The book doesn't have time for character development and it didn't catch me with a sense of the other epic sagas he's written, like Centennial. The story ends abruptly without telling us how the MC fairs on trial. Only Michener could have written this and then made money on it. A descent idea, but I think it's a little short and underdeveloped. 

Hands down, this is one of the best novels I've ever picked out from a used book store. Herman Wouk has been called the American Tolstoy, and I can see why after reading all 600 pages of MM. The story is about a young Jewish girl growing up in NYC in the 1930s with dreams of becoming an actress. While pursuing her studies and dating a number of boys, she enters the cutthroat world of Broadway. One Amazon reviewer said, "It's rare to find a book where the daily life of the MC is so well documented." Yes, well-documented and interesting! And no, there's hardly any mention of Hitler and WWII in the whole text.

A neat find at an antique store. Haven't finished it yet, but thus far, the stories are surprisingly inventive and entertaining.

A great collection with an even better introduction about the art of the short story and how the industry changed after 1968.

A neat thought experiment on how mankind might have started a relationship with canines. You'll enjoy the book so long as you keep that in mind. This is not an anthropologist story. Only problem I had is that the dog doesn't join with man until the very very end.

I saved this on for last, because it is probably my favorite on this entire list of books. Leopards tells the story of a writer who is desperate to succeed. He's got talent, but he's also a compulsive liar and a shameless thief. He seems unable to compose work unless he rips incidents out of real life or other people's work. The MC reinvents himself so many times, that by the end of the book, everything from the characters' names to the history of his circle of friends, has changed (but therein is the main conflict, the MC can only change so much). Only the barest threads remain to remind the reader who's who and what's what. The book breaks all of the rules about format, tense, pacing, and POV to show this and it works. This is an example of experimental fiction that hits the mark and show you just what can be done with a novel. It has lots of exotic locations, provocative thoughts, and there's typewriters! Lots of references to typewriters (though Remington gets the only brand-name mention).

That's all for now. I get out of the splint on Friday!

I'll never take my dominant hand for granted again.

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Playing Hurt

Operation? Psh. Like an injury is going to keep me from my passion.

The story must be told!

All I need is the right tool...

This is a lot harder than it looks, but at least I'm exercising the demon. This is the one time when I have to have an electric instead of a manual.

This is what we call "desperate measures."

Nine more days till I'm out of the sling....

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

The Biggest Chain Letter Ever!

It had over a dozen contributors. It took almost a year to complete. But at long last, it's HERE!

Notes scanned for time an convenience. Sorry to those who used colored ribbons!