Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Followup on NaNoWriMo

It's now December. I finished National Novel Writing Month with a word total of over 57,000 words or the equivalent of 99 pages single spaced. Not all of it is good. Much of it will be useless, but what the exercise does is to force you to silence your inner editor and critic and just write. I recommend NaNoWriMo for any of you who find it difficult to get the words down on paper or who feel they have to get it right the first time. There is a time for editing, but it's not while you're in the flow of writing. There will be time for that later. This is what NaNoWriMo teaches and it is a valuable lesson.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

November is National Novel Writing Month

We're on the verge of another National Novel Writing Month or NaNoWriMo. Every November, ambitious writers take on the challenge of producing 50,000 words in one month. That averages out to 1,667 words per day. And a lot of them actually do it.

Last year, I was one of the winners of the Writers of the Future contest. Winning such a prestigious contest should have been a spur to produce ever more writing. Instead, I ended up with what I later found out was a fairly common after effect of such good news, imposter syndrome. I couldn't believe that I had bested thousands of other unpublished writers and ended up blocked. I did almost no writing for four months. In October, I decided to sign myself up for NaNoWriMo just a way to force myself to start writing again. Taking an idea I'd come up with during a writing conference a year earlier, I started a new novel with only a vague notion of where it might be going. In 30 days writing I cranked out 42,000 words, finishing up part 1 of the novel.

The novel continues being written. It is now over 190,000 words and has been split into two books. This November I'll work on it again and hope to add another 50,000 words and maybe figure out where this story ends. Yes, a year later I'm still writing it seat-of-the-pants and the story continues to evolve.

NaNoWriMo is a good way to kickstart your novel. I highly recommend it. In addition to the personal incentive it gives, you can have writing buddies online and there are local NaNoWriMo support groups. The FaceBook page for our local group in tiny, rural Humboldt County has 101 subscribers, so writing your novel doesn't have to be a lonely pursuit.

Good luck to all who take the challenge. May you be a NaNoWriMo winner.

Friday, September 6, 2013

An open letter to Congress concerning Syria

The proposed cruise missle strikes on Syria are based on flawed logic. The most serious flaw is the assumption that parties in the Middle East will react in what we as Westerners consider to be a logical fashion to the application of force. Have they ever? Did the Taliban in Afghanistan? Did the Sunni in Iraq? And if you go further in history, did the Arabs react with the kind of logical submission we expect of Syria when they were confronted with overwhelming force from the Ottoman Empire during World War I? Did the Afghans submit to the mighty British Empire in the 1830s? No, they fought on. We continue to miss the lessons of history both past and present. Force will not achieve our goals, only diplomacy and negotiation will.

For some unfathomable reason our nation seems to believe that just because Bashir Assad was educated in England, he is, somehow, a Western individual. He is not. His mindset is Middle Eastern. He believes that unless he fights on to the bitter end, his Alawite brothers and sisters will be slaughtered by the Sunni majority and he is probably correct. As long as his people are in danger, he has no incentive to end his fight and every incentive to continue fighting more desperately using ever more force and killing ever more of those he considers the enemy of his people. Attacks from the outside will only increase his desperation and his incentive to use ever more intense force to end the struggle quickly. Obama's plan will backfire horribly just as the use of force has backfired every time in the Middle East. We will end up in yet another quagmire. Need I remind you how much the quagmires in Afghanistan and Iraq have already cost us? Our nation is mired in debt and unable to educate, house, feed and care for its own people because of the treasure we have poured into Middle Eastern rat holes through ill planned military fiascos. Let's not do it yet again. Syria requires concerted international diplomacy not reckless military bluster brought on by failed posturing about "red lines."

The nation cannot afford another war. The world cannot afford another war. And another war will not accomplish any worthwhile goal -- history, recent and past demonstrates this clearly. Encourage the President to take bold diplomatic action in international forums, but vote against this reckless, hopelessly ill thought out military action.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

The discipline of 99 word fiction

I was introduced to the concept of the 99 word story when our local free paper, the North Coast Journal ran its 2012 short fiction contest. Writing a 99 word story requires a unique discipline. Every word counts -- more than this, every word must count for the maximum it possibly can. I start the exercise with a concept which I let roll around in my head for a while. The concept can only be a vignette but it must have a twist to complete it and make it memorable. I type the story in and check the word count. They started anywhere between 110 and 124 words. Then the tough part begins: How to pair the story down to only the necessary words. A word here, a word there makes all the difference. My first entry, about a housewife finally enjoying herself, was a finalist.


Harry really was right, single malt Scotch was better than blended. Lois swirled the snifter and let the potent fragrance tickle her nose. She closed her eyes and sipped. It tasted of caramel, smoke and the pungence of 100 proof. Lois grabbed the bottle from Harry's private cabinet and settled in Harry's favorite easy chair. In the humidor beside it rested Harry's illegally imported Cuban cigars which she would eventually compost. Harry had spent a lot on his little pleasures. That was over. Tonight she'd bask in the warmth of his Scotch. Tomorrow she'd worry about the blood stains.

The slow pace of the story was resolved in a startling conclusion. In 2013, I wrote a 99 word sequel to the original 99 word story.


Lois danced around the sofa, gliding and twirling. Harry would have told her to act her age - old poop.

A knock interrupted her. A police officer greeted her. "We were wondering about Harry, ma'am."

"So was I," she said, hands over heart. "Have you questioned the people from that meth house down the street?"

The officer cocked his head. "Why? Harry is a pillar of the community."

Lois shook her head slowly. "Always the ones who fool you."

"We'll check." He left.

Lois smiled, danced round the sofa again and headed downstairs to finish the new basement wall.

Writing 99 word fiction is a good exercise in restraining verbosity which I can always use.

Monday, August 26, 2013

Scientology and the Writers of the Future contest

Yet again in 2018 the controversy over the association between Writers of the Future and Scientology has reared its ugly head. I wrote this post nearly five years ago and it remains relevant. A few overzealous Scientologists may have tainted the contest by attempting to push their religious beliefs on a winner. I fully expect Author Services to take them aside and give them a talking to. Author Services (which runs the contest) tries to keep a firewall between the religion and the contest. For the most part, they do a good job. They want the contest to be unbiased.

Does Scientology help finance the contest to keep Hubbard's name out there, of course. Everyone knows that. And, yes, at the end of the week they asked if I had anything nice to say about him and I refused and they did nothing.

Personally, I'd hate to see the contest get a bad reputation and lose the depth of talent it has traditionally had and, along with that, the opportunity it gives new writers. So to everyone who's thinking about withdrawing because of the latest controversies, I strongly advise against it. This is the best chance most talented new writers will get to break into the business.

The original post follows:

An article from last year's Village Voice about links between Scientology and the Writers of the Future contest was posted recently in a Facebook group in order to dissuade people from entering the contest. Let me start by saying, I'm prejudiced. I was one of the twelve winners of the contest in 2013. As I sit here writing this blog post, my trophy from the contest is on a shelf in front of me, the cover art from my story hangs on the wall alongside a picture of me, for the one and probably only time in my life, wearing a tuxedo. The contest offered me a great opportunity to break into the Sci-Fi business that I am pursuing now; an opportunity I would never have had without the contest. Had I refrained from entering the contest because of its association with L. Ron Hubbard, I would have missed that opportunity.

The Village Voice article points out that, in spite of claims made to contestants to the contrary, Scientology may be helping to finance the contest in order to keep Hubbard's name in front of the public in a good light. I don't doubt that they are correct in this. Hubbard's name is plastered everywhere across the contest and on the anthology of the works of the winners. He did, after all, start the contest and set up its continuing financing. How is this different from Alfred Nobel's (who made his fortune from inventing dynamite) name on the Nobel Prizes, or Joseph Pulitzer (some times accused of yellow journalism) on the Pulitzer Prizes, or Andrew Carnegie (the steel baron and not a champion of labor) on all those libraries? If you endow it, you get your name on it. We were asked by the people at Author Services (who probably were Scientologists) to thank Hubbard in our acceptance speeches; I didn't and that was fine.

Perhaps there could have been a less controversial person to endow the contest, but, then again, the writers of the so called "Golden Age" of Sci-Fi were, on the whole, an old boy's club of womanizers and misogynists. Heinlein's wife, if a recent best selling book is to be believed, slept with Hubbard and Heinlein didn't care. Would you rather have had a church-going author set it up? How about, say, Orson Scott Card? He's a nice fellow, I'm told — if you're not gay. Real Science-Fiction writers are real people with real problems — Hubbard included. Anyone else could have set up the contest, but Hubbard had the foresight and generosity to pay-it-forward and create a venue for discovering the next generation of Sci-Fi talent. For that I thank him.

The prestige of the Writers of the Future contest is not based on Hubbard's name — quite the contrary. The prestige of the contest is based on the number of entries (not published but estimated in the thousands), the quality of the judging staff (none of whom are Scientologists), and the quality of the winning pieces which, I'd like to think, is excellent. None of the winning authors in my year was a Scientologist. The list of authors who got their start through this contest is like a who's who of Sci-Fi. Dissuading talented new writers from entering the contest because of its connections to Hubbard and Scientology is a disservice, cutting them off from one of their best chances of breaking into the business.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

On the problem of congratulating a friend for being declared human

I'd like to congratulate my friends on today's Supreme Court decisions in the cases of Doma and Prop 8, but somehow it seems inappropriate. What should I say: "Congratulations on having your marriage valued as much as mine." or "Congratulations on narrowly winning recognition of having equivalent human rights to me."

And the decision on Prop 8 was narrow. With only a one vote majority, the Supremes only said was that the people who brought the suit did not have "standing" to bring it. This leaves open the possibility of a different California administration resubmitting the appeal. The Supreme Court has always tried to stay a step or two behind the society at large and this has led to some dreadful decisions like Dred Scott. Still, some of the narrowest decisions have had the greatest consequence. Marbury v. Madison was a narrow decision yet it enshrined the principal of judicial review of laws (a decision I think Justice Scalia would like to overturn). Hopefully some future Court will broaden their decision to say that no minority group may be discriminated against for any reason by a prejudiced majority.

The long-term arc of history is toward greater justice, equality and tolerance. There will always be individuals and groups who resist that arc of history. No amount of reasonable argument will dissuade them. How, for instance, can my marriage be anything but strengthened when it is recognized that everyone has the right to marry? A fuller recognition of rights will have to wait for our children's generation. They have grown up with the knowledge that who you love is less important than who you are as a person. Justice Scalia's generation, the generation that grew up before the Civil Rights movement, will have to pass from power before this can take place.

So in the meantime, to all my LGBT friends, congratulations on finally being granted some of the civil rights you should have had all along. May you see the greater fulfillment of the arc of history.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Writers of the Future

The past two weeks have been momentous. I had the honor in the first quarter of 2012 to be picked from among thousands of worldwide entries as one of the winners of the Writers of the Future contest. From April 8 to 15 I was part of a group of 13 highly talented writers and 12 illustrators who experienced a week of intensive training topped off by an award ceremony (it's three hours long, I'm at two hours four minutes) that resembles the Oscars. The week of classes were taught by several of the top names in Science Fiction: Tim Powers, Dave Wolverton, Nina Kiriki Hoffman, Todd McCaffrey, Robert J. Sawyer, Eric Flint, Mike Resnick, Kevin J. Anderson and Rebecca Moesta as well as past winners and now published authors Brad Torgersen, Jordan Ellinger, Eric James Stone and others. With such an outstanding group of teachers, the learning experience was unsurpassed.

The Writers of the Future contest is a chance for new writers in Science Fiction and Fantasy to get exposure and enter into the world of publishing. It is a showcase for new writers. I cannot recommend it too highly. The judging is blind and strictly on the merits of the story. Send in one with strong characterization, good plot and competent language and you stand just as much chance as the next person. I've been published locally but Writers of the Future, Vol. 29 (totally unsubtle plug for the book) is my first national publication. Submit your story. Among the many advantages of the contest is that it's free to submit.

One last point. If anyone is worried about the connection of L. Ron Hubbard and the contest and Scientology: the contest is separate from Scientology. Hubbard endowed the contest, but it and Galaxy press are under a distinct corporate entity. None of the judges, to my knowledge, has any connections to Scientology, and Scientology was not brought up during the week.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Why we never should have been allowed to marry

If you believe the proponents of Prop 8, then the reason the state sanctions marriage is for procreation. If this was the case, I should have never been allowed to marry since neither of us wanted to have children and took measures to ensure we didn't. By the same token, no one over 55 should be allowed to marry. No one who is infertile should be allowed to marry. Indeed, the primary requirement for a marriage license should be a pregnancy. Yet these same people only want pregnancy within marriage.

To say their arguments lack logic and merit is to give them far too much credit. The same people who do not want committed gay and lesbian couples to marry because it would sully the sanctity of marriage have no problem with multiply divorced hetero couples marrying. Why aren't they opposed to divorce? The fact the most marriages end in divorce is far more a stain on marriage than allowing same sex couples who love each other to enter into it.

I guess when you have the word from on high, you can ignore the failings of your argumentation. But wait: What is traditional marriage? In the Bible, all of the patriarchs had multiple wives and concubines. If you're looking for true Biblical marriage, there it is.

And Jesus does not offer a better picture of marriage. In Luke 14:26 he says: "If anyone comes to me and does not hate his father and mother, his wife and children, his brothers and sisters—yes, even his own life—he cannot be my disciple." Or Matthew 19:29 "And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or fields for my sake will receive a hundred times as much and will inherit eternal life." Hardly what one would call a ringing endorsement of "Biblical marriage."

I am friends with a lesbian couple who have been together nearly thirty years and a gay couple who have been together nearly fifty. If marriage is about love, then they deserve to be married. It it's not about love, then what is it about? Certainly not what the Prop 8 proponents say. We can only hope the Supreme Court shows courage and forethought in their decisions.

Friday, January 18, 2013

How to save a life

It's been nine and a half years since we moved behind the Redwood Curtain and in that time I hope I've saved several lives. I'm a writer, not a fireman or policeman or member of a search and rescue team, so how could I have saved several lives? I donate blood. Today I gave the pint that makes my sixth gallon of donations since moving here. That's 48 chances to give another person the gift of life -- the victim of an accident, a person facing surgery, someone with a blood disorder.

Most of us never get the chance to perform a heroic act and I don't consider donating blood an act of heroism, but it does give me the opportunity to change another persons life as profoundly as any act of heroism. My small gift of a pound of myself is a more direct gift to another human being than any donation to charity.

For anyone who has never donated before, the process is fairly simple. Count on it taking about an hour to and hour and a half. You fill out a survey of health questions and then have your temperature, pulse and blood pressure taken. A finger is stuck and a few drops of blood taken for a test of the iron level of your blood and, if everything checks out, you sit in a comfortable reclining chair while a technician finds the best vein, swabs your arm and sticks a needle in for the extraction. The needle stick is the only part of the process I don't care for, so I don't look. Then you just sit back and let the blood flow into a bag. I always bring a book to read while that's going on. Once you've donated, you stop in the snack room for something to drink and goodies. You're not supposed to do any strenuous exercise or heavy lifting for 24 hours, so you can go home and have a pass to be lazy for a day.

And then your blood goes to work helping one or more people. That's a good feeling.