Monday, April 30, 2007

Wrestling With Evil

I don't believe in evil. Still, that doesn't keep me from writing about it and creating characters who are loathsome in their behavior and thoughts.

I recently had a dialogue with someone regarding developing a foil for a protagonist, which led to a discussion about the nature of evil.

"What makes a good villain?" I asked.
"Evil."
"What if a person isn't religious?"
"It doesn't matter. Evil is evil."

Is it that simple? Is there an absolute yardstick for evil? Or does it depend on which side of the road you are standing?

Does a suicide bomber see himself as evil? Does a general, whose actions cause the death of thousands of civilians, see himself as evil? I know that a person who believes in God would state that according to their world view that certain acts are evil. Okay, but what about the other person who believes in the same God, but believes their actions are guided by a religious point of view?

The point? In writing about villainy, someone can either paint a character in broad strokes so that the reader has no question about that person's morality, or else one can paint three dimensional characters, each character with his or her own moral compass. In that situation, the reader might have to question his or her own views and make a decision about whether that person is entirely evil or not.

I recently read "A Game of Thrones" by George RR Martin. While I criticised the novel for being too "soap operish" in its plot construction, I will give Martin credit for creating characters that were complex. One of the most foul of these characters is a boy suddenly thrust into the role of monarch. It would be easy to dismiss him, branding him as pure evil, but Martin helps us see how the child emerged as a tool for the ambitious mother, and how he is in many ways a victim of his upbringing. Does it it any way excuse his behavior within the book? No. No more than any current political figure can be excused for their actions. However, by giving the character depths, by rendering him more human, we have something more powerful than a cardboard representation of "good" and "bad".

I'm not saying a writer shouldn't occasionally create an old fashioned monster with a handle bar moustache and nasty demeanor, but the three dimensional villain makes a deeper literary footprint. Who is more menacing, the Lord of Mordor (remote, unknowable, an abstract representation of evil), or Hannibal Lecter (the soft spoken, dignified, manipulative serial killer)?

Sunday, April 29, 2007

MEA CULPA


Okay...my bad. Here is a post from Jon Zech that follows the Dangerous Lines assignment. If you aren't familiar with Jon's work, then shame on you. Take this opportunity to take a trip over to his blog. Read "Dangerous Lines", then take a look at some of the other writing samples he's offered up.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Playing Along


I never do memes..or tags...or whatever. However, since it was deslily, I'll make an exception for once.

Apparently, I first have to name three book characters I would like to meet. Hmmmm....
1) James Bond [ I would like to sit across a bacarat table from him with enough money in my bank that it didn't matter]
2) Ray Kinsella [the main character from "Shoeless Joe", known in film as "Field of Dreams]. It would be nice to sit in the bleachers with him to talk about baseball, magic, and life...which are all the same thing after all.
3)Spencer [the hero from the Robert B. Parker books]. Actually, I'd like to go to Fenway Park with Spencer, and perhaps Jon Zech. We'd invite Kinsella along, enjoy a day in a real ballpark, and after, we could take in some entertainment at a local establishment that also serves alcohol.

Three Characters I would like to be...
1)James Bond. I wonder if there is a pattern here.
2)Sherlock Holmes
3)Aragorn, son of Arathorn. (hey...he gets to be king)

Three Characters I from books that I fear...

1) Cthulhu..if you have to be afraid of someone, why not a god that sleeps waiting in an undersea city, waiting for the right alignment of the stars so that it can rise and reclaim its dominion?
2)Rev. James Maloney. This is one of the main characters of a novel I am marketing. Why is he on this list? Because I feel there is too much of him within me. Evil, cruel, self absorbed, controlling, charismatic, manipulative...Stewart!!!!
3) The demon Pazuzu from "The Exorcist"

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Dangerous Lines

Some assignments come smoothly. Some you struggle for. This is a struggle. I wrote the opening two lines having no idea what I was writing, but by the fourth paragraph the idea solidified. The writing isn't as smooth as I would like, but I never do rewrites to my assignments. Unless they are going out somewhere.


DANGEROUS CURVES

"Drop the gun."

"You first."

I smiled, then sat down. He leaned back against the wall. Neither of us relaxed our weapons.

"When we were kids, I used to think that you were smarter than me. I always felt I had to try twice as hard to accomplish half as much as you. I used to spend so much time angry."

My brother Jan smiled, but there was no pleasure in his expression. He knew better than to drop his guard. "I am smarter."

We looked toward the street but there was no traffic. The police had probably cordoned off the block. We knew they would have the snipers on the rooftops by now, they might even be setting up for some sort of assault. We didn't have any hostages, and the negotiator didn't seem too concerned when he talked to us. To me.

"Why don't you surrender," the cop had said. He had that smugness in his voice that rankled me.
"I'd rather die."

"No, you wouldn't."

" I can't stand the thought of spending time in jail. I can't."

"You sound like a person done jail before," he said.

I hadn't. My brother on the other hand had been in twice for burglary. He was the one who had come up with this heist in the first place.

Holding the phone hard to my ear, I said: "I have."

It might have been the change in tone. Maybe I started sweating. My brother watched me, eyes digging in.

"There's different kinds of jail time," said the cop.

"It's all the same."

"Maybe so, maybe not."

"I'll kill myself first," I said. I believed it, too.

"Let's just keep it cool."

"No jail."

My voice rose with desperation. I hung up and made eye contact with Jan. He knew instantly what I had in mind. Identical twins may not think alike, but they're close. Something in my expression must have registered with him. His eyebrows rose, then we both went for our weapons.

"It's got to be you," I said. "They have your prints."

"You gonna kill me?" he said. He didn't sound surprised, but I could tell the idea amused him. "And then what? Write a note?"

"I don't need to write a note. I've already put suicide in the minds of the cops."

"And why shouldn't I shoot you and use the same plan?"

"Identical twins don't have identical prints."

"I'm not letting you shoot me," he said.

I kept the gun pointed.

Sometimes certain ideas are better left alone. It's like you jinx yourself just by opening to door to some line of reasoning. Suicide. It squatted between us like an ugly toad waiting to be kissed. He was right, my plan had been stupid. Once I killed my brother they would have searched every inch of the building and I had no idea where to hide.

"Well, I guess that blows the suicide plan all to hell."

"It was a stupid plan," he said. "It had too many holes in it. Anyway, you wouldn't have killed me."

"I can kill you," I said.

"You had your chance."

"So did you."

"We going out together?" I asked.

"Well, it's not like I'm letting you follow behind me with a gun to my back."

I nodded. We moved toward the front. I don't know which of us started running, but soon we were flying through the lobby then pushing past the thick glass doors. I couldn't see the little red dots of the laser sites, but I could feel them travelling over me. I would have dropped my gun, maybe put my hands up, but I heard Jan fire first.

Assignment: Dangerous Lines


DANGEROUS LINES...you know what they are; the words we speak which push us from our comfort zones. They are the lines we can't get back once spoken. Or else they're the paths we take that lead us over the edge, crossroads which will never return to the road not taken.

The assignment was to write a short work exploring conflict without breaking the surface tension. The goal was to work on conflict to aid in plot and character development, but to do so in a controlled manner that will keep us from beating the reader over the head.

Below are the assignments as they come in. Please feel free to visit the links and give feedback to those who may have participated. Give them feedback on whether or not they accomplished whatever goal you think they may have set out on; maybe discuss their word choice or use of dialogue.

First up? Lucas Pederson's "Dangerous Lines: A Search For A Beloved Heart"
Next, SQT delivers up her own Dangerous Lines
Somewhere in the post of the day, below the American Idol stuff you'll find Bond's contribution.
Zech is back...back in rare form...Dangerous Lines from New Baltimore.

tomorrow...I'll add more contributions along with my own.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Conventional Moves

Friday night my wife and I went to PENGUINCON, a computer/science fiction convention of sort in Troy, Michigan. I went to hear a panel discuss: The Lovecraft Legacy, and to do a little Cthulhu role-playing. I also went to make fun of the people at the convention, who am I fooling? (Cthulhu pictured to the right)

And yes, there were furries. Anyone who has read my blog for some time may know that I experienced my first furry at the last convention I attended. For those of you who don't know, and I respect you for NOT knowing, a furry is someone who likes to dress up as a furry little animal and run around. They will wear little noses, ears, tails...some of them will even put on an entire body covering costume: Full Body Furries.

I think I need to organize one of these events to be in downtown Detroit and not one of the suburban hotels. Before I die, I want to see a furry or two walking through the Detroit urban landscape.

That being said, let me address the panel discussing The Lovecraft Legacy.

The panelists, with the possible exception of William Jones ( who had difficulty getting a word in edgewise) , didn't seem to approach the subject of Lovecraft with any real erudition; and topically they were all over the place.

The structure of a panel?

A moderator asks a question, then some members of the panel take turns being pompous while other members wait in vain for an opportunity to speak. Meanwhile, the audience, eager to approve and to be approved of, ask inane questions that other members of the audience want to answer so badly that they wet their seats.

I think what would have made this panel more attractive (and not just this panel, but most panels at these conventions) is to have each speaker with a prepared text on the subject (perhaps coordinating with one another beforehand to avoid repetition). After the erudite speecifying, the audience would then be allowed to ask questions based on the text, to clarify the positions or address specific issues raised by the speaker. I'd even let the seat wetters talk.

I will be posting a picture or two from the convention in a day or so. I hope. By the way, the gaming afterward was tremendous fun.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

ASSIGNMENT: DANGEROUS LINES


Members of the Bay Areas Writers group looked around the table at one another...we talked gaily for some time, enjoying one another's company, sharing anecdotes, solving the world's problems, discussing just about everything except writing. I suppose writers need a night to just enjoy one another and set aside the craft? Maybe it helps to clear out the brain.

So, that being said, let me kick the writers' in the butt and hand out an assignment to get us all going again. Jon, Phyllis...and crotchety John, this is for you. Of course, like all of my assignments, this is for anyone else who would like to participate. Whether it's one or thirty of you.

In case someone is reading this who hasn't participated, here's how it's done. We all do the writing assignment (usually an activity designed to work on one aspect of writing), then post it on our individual blogs. You send the addresses of where the assignment is being posted to me, and on April 25th, I will post all the addresses. Then, we travel from blog to blog, noshing here, relishing there, and offer up comment and critiques.

That being said, here is the assignment:

Character development and plot is based on conflict. Write about 700-2000 word short story where the tension between the two characters runs beneath the surface. You know the type...body language, looks, more of what isn't said than what is being said, perhaps the way it is said...the tension should shimmer. It should never reach critical mass, but it ride along like quicksilver, or perhaps a dynamite fuse.

And the title of your work will be: DANGEROUS LINES.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

BUT IS IT ART??????



Okay, but is it art? Below are three examples of artistic expression. The first is a picture from an Australian art exhibit. The woman who crafted the sculpture, Patricia Piccinini, works with different materials to creat some of the most disturbing images I think I've ever seen. My question...does anyone buy this stuff? And if they do, where the hell do they put it? Is this something you want in your family room?


So Piccinini isn't your taste? How about Kira O`Reilly?Below is an article taken from a British publication.

Kira O'Reilly will provide her own answer today by spending four hours naked, hugging a dead pig - at the taxpayer's expense.


The controversial Irish performance artist will invite one person at a time to watch her sit in a specially-constructed set and perform a 'crushing slow dance' with the carcass in her arms.

She claims the bizarre exhibition is an attempt to 'identify' with the pig, which she cuts with a knife during the show.


Visitors to the Newlyn Art Gallery in Newlyn, Cornwall - funded by taxpayers and the lottery - will be allowed to watch her for ten minutes. The gallery has defended its decision to stage the one-off show, but animal rights campaigners have labelled the performance 'sick'.


Anita Singh, spokesman for People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, said: 'This seems to be a desperate cry for help that merits visits from mental health counsellors, not voyeurs.


'As Miss O'Reilly seems to depend on the shock value of using a murdered pig as a prop, perhaps lacking the talent to make it as a proper artist, may we suggest she take up a day job instead to pay the bills. This is not entertainment - this is sick.'


Under the title 'Inthewrongplaceness', the piece is billed as a 'slow crushing dance with a pig for one at a time'.


The performance will see the artist sit in a disused social club designed to look like a bedroom, surrounded by props including flowers and a plastic swan.

She will spend four hours with the dead pig - bought from a local abattoir - in her arms.


She wrote on the gallery's website: 'When I cut pig I have an urge to delve both hands into the belly, to meld into her warm flesh, my blood and her blood.'

Monday, April 16, 2007

The Cool Factor

I went to lunch with two writers this last Sunday and we talked about....writing. Go figure. One of the Writers, we'll call him Chuck, argued that people should know the market for which they write, and to do this they should read extensively. "You can't write genre if you don't read genre. You should be buying and reading magazines like "Dark Wisdom", "Realms of Fantasy" etc. You should read online magazines and get a sense of the pulse of the genre."

The other writer, we'll call him Rick, argued that writing should rise above that and the writer should seek to elevate rather than fall into the mold. The writer should write from experience and not just distill the experiences of others through their writing.

Me? I sided more with Chuck. I think writers need to read and know their audience. It's why I have been reading a ton of romance over the last four months. It's why I have subscriptions to four or five fiction magazines. I used to write willy nilly, now I only write new stories in response to calls for submissions. And if the story is rejected, then I try sending it around to various markets.

"So what's your criteria?" asked Rick.

"The cool factor. Somewhere in that story there better be something that makes a fan of the genre nod his head and go: "Cool". I can write esoteric meanderings, and sometimes do, but for commercial market there better be something solid there that a reader can connect with.

Flaming

Sometimes we need to be reminded of how strange life is. At first I discounted the below story, figuring it was a one of those bits of strange fluff that makes its rounds. But then I started seeing this on more reputable news sites. And so, I give you: THE FLAMING TOILET


Japan's leading toilet maker Toto Ltd. is offering free repairs for 180,000 bidet toilets after wiring problems caused several to catch fire, the company said Monday.

The electric bidet accessory of Toto's Z series caught fire in three separate incidents between March 2006 and March 2007, according to company spokeswoman Emi Tanaka.

"Fortunately, nobody was using the toilets when the fire broke out and there were no injuries," Tanaka said. "The fire would have been just under your buttocks."
The company will repair for free 180,000 toilet units manufactured between May 1996 and December 2001, she said. A manufacturing defect is thought to have led to the faulty wiring.

Toto has been a pioneer in high-tech toilets fitted with pressurized water sprayers - a standard fixture in Japanese homes.

The popular Z series features a pulsating massage spray, a power dryer, built-in-the-bowl deodorizing filter, the "Tornado Wash" flush and a lid that opens and closes automatically.

Prices range from 200,500-310,500 yen (US$1,680-2,600).
The model is not sold oveseas.

Daddy-daughter/Daughter-daddy


"Because we cherish our daughters as regal princesses..."

That is the opening banner for the Colorado Springs' Purity Ball website. Essentially the event is a dance, where fathers pledge love to their daughters, daughters in return pledge chastity, and the father gives her a ring. Then they dance.

I like the idea of fathers and daughters, mothers and sons getting closer. I must admit this description from the website made me, forgive my Yiddish, "fer klump".

One of the most memorable highlights of the ball is when the fathers stand in the middle of the ballroom and form a circle around their daughters standing all aglow in their lovely ball gowns. The fathers place their hands on their daughters, and together we pray for purity of mind, body, and soul for generations to come.

If you're interested in joining the Great Abstinence movement, the people over at The Abstinence Clearing House make it easy with an honest-to-God Purity Ball Kit. Just $25.

No? Well then how about Cee Cee's online Boutique. It's sixty five dollars for a Purity Princess Survivor Kit. Just read what your money buys:


This kit is excellent for any girl! Over 50 items enclosed including
the Purity Pledge, the Pink Abstinence Card , valuable information on STD's and your worth as a girl created by God! From nail enamel quick dry spray, a cute polka dot shower cap to nail glue, a pre-threaded sewing kit, and a dual make up sharpener...this kit is for you! Great for going off to College the Birthday Girl or even a COMING OF AGE gift for when she finally gets her period. What a great way to sow into GODZGIRL NETWORK to help other girls!

Saturday, April 14, 2007

Those Wacky Right Wingers

Ah those wacky right wingers. In the last few months they've been deliriously creative, and is there anything more frightening than when the right tries to be creative? Right now, they're launching Conservapedia . Apparently Wikipedia is just too liberal for these folks. And we all know how the right loves to attempt to control the media, so at least at this new "online encyclopedia", they can. They can rewrite history to their hearts' content. You can hear Dick Cheney whispering "Be still my heart".

Want to see a Conservapedia entry? Here's one on unicorns. Betcha didn't know their existence was considered controversial.

"The existence of unicorns is controversial. Secular opinion is that they are mythical. However, they are referred to in the Bible nine times,[1] which provides an unimpeachable de facto argument for their once having been in existence. Christian apologists have advanced various arguments that the biblical unicorn was not a fantasy animal. [2][3]

In the original texts, unicorns go by the Hebrew name Re-em whereas the Greek Septuagint used the name Monokeros.[4] Unicorn itself is Latin. All three names mean “one horn“."



And they can't stop with Conservapedia...they have to make sure they have a conservative friendly video site, one that can rival youtube.com Ladies and gentlemen, for the mindless among you, I introduce: QubeTV

Ah yes, according to its founder: Not just another political site, Qube TV will offer many topics such as: sports, entertainment, video games, books, music and religion. "If some young conservative guy wants to pour out his soul about finding a young conservative girl—we want him to come and set up his own space and pour out his rightward heart!" Ah, those wacky conservatives.

Will there be standards? (this is my favorite quote):

"And if some al-Qaeda type sends footage of an American kid being killed, unlike the New York Times, we will have the common sense and decency to get the thing removed ASAP…as conservatives we are big believers in the Constitution, which includes the First Amendment."

So, if some Al-Queda type (that tends to be Conservative code for "liberal") wants to express a different viewpoint then forgetaboutit. Conservatives love the first amendment, but only as it's applied to conservatives. See how that works?

Okay...if you all behave yourselves....if you are all very very good...I'll do a posting about the conservatives' Purity Balls.

Indulging the Imagination

I have always been a fan of picture books. I enjoy visual stimulation. That's why Google, that strange international corporation who has squat itself down in Ann Arbor, Michigan has been such a blessing for me. When I am looking for inspiration, or when I'm terribly bored and the dogs have gone into hiding, I click on the google.com, tap the heading for images, and type in a word. For instance, if I type in "Addition" look at the first few images that pop up:




Now I'm not saying this is awe inspiring, but it does make you start thinking up other words or word combinations and wondering what pictures they will yield. For instance: BLOOD FRUIT
(hey, it's my brain, so you have to expect that sort of thing)



I especially like the the trees to the right. Some of the images that pop up when you type in BLOOD FRUIT can be understandably disturbing. For some reason several images of people being lynched were among the results displayed.

Ultimately, I'm for anything or anyone that can stimulate my imagination. As a writer, the imagination is a valuable asset and I want to indulge it as much as possible.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

At Day's End

W.P. Kinsella, author of "Shoeless Joe", the novel upon which "Field of Dreams" is based, and "The Iowa Baseball Confederacy" wrote: "If you're lucky, in a lifetime you get one moment in which you'd like to live forever. One moment when you'd like to be frozen in time, in a landscape, a painting, a sculpture, or a vase. "


I think we run through life with several of those moments accumulated in our consciousness. They are the gems we take out and examine when the existence becomes too weary and the nights seem to last too long. Maybe, as a way to better ourselves, we should become more attuned to these moments. Maybe at the end of the evening, as we are drifting off to sleep, we should think back and find one of these moments in each day. String enough of those moments together and they become electric.

If we make our own reality, then we also make our own dreams.


Wednesday, April 11, 2007

SO IT GOES


Writers have mentors. As children we read something and a spark is ignited. Ask any writer about his or her influence and a look of whimsy and satisfaction will steal across his face. He'll name the person or person whose work touched him in such a way that he had to take up the pen himself. Me? There are three authors whose work have always inspired me to keep writing: Ray Bradbury, H.P. Lovecraft, and Kurt Vonnegut.

The author of such works as "Cat's Cradle", "The Sirens of Titan", "Slaughterhouse Five", and numerous short stories of speculative fiction that have had a distinctive American voice has died at age 84. I feel a tremendous sense of loss. It's as though a favorite uncle has passed.

But Uncle Vonnegut wouldn't want us to grieve. He would just smile and suggest that he is still alive at another point in time, but that at this point in time, his body is in an unfortunate state of existence. So, instead of saying goodbye to this man, let's instead say what the Trafalmadorians say when one of their kind passes: "So it Goes."

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

If It's After Easter, I Must Be Back


I would like to thank people for their comments to the previous post. I have been on vacation from blogging. I thought I would write more, but oddly enough I seem to have just found other ways to squander time. I have been working on my fiction though, and find it is really a matter of being self-disciplined. Yeah.

"Mytholog" 's new issue is online now, which means so is my short story: "GOD". Feel free to visit their website, read the story, then tell them how much you love it or hate it. http://www.mytholog.com/

I'll give you a preface. I wrote the story in response to someone asking me: "Why must everything you write be so dark?" I remember smiling, shrugging, and dismissing her. I do that well.

When I look back at much of my work, I have admit that I do often choose the dark path. Why? Maybe Charles or Wayne can tell you better why people write horror. I can only share this:

"Do you like roller coasters? Yeah. Me too. What about driving on a slick expressway twenty miles over the speed limit on a busy Wednesday afternoon and then having someone clap their hands over your eyes? Yeah. Me too. You like Michael Meyers? Freddy Kruger? What about Jason Voorheis? or even Hannibal Lecter? Yeah...Me too. What about waking up in the middle of the night because you hear someone outside. Then, when you go downstairs to check things out, you discover your back door is open a little bit, and you remember locking it before you went to bed. Yeah? Me too."