Saturday, September 26, 2009

Kids Encounter Novel-Writing

A while back, my sister-in-law sent along a link to novel-writing curriculum created by a homeschooling mom (you can read about that curriculum at "Little Blue School" blog). Since my job involves after-school education and arts programs, and since I already teach children how to write essays and poetry, I immediately visited the site and downloaded the material.

And, as usual, I've had to adapt it to fit the fidgety and not-always-present group of kids at the Club. They are enthusiastic participants, but instead of the steady six kids that I need to arrive every week, I may have three who are regulars and attend every session, and others who might or might not be on the roster but who see everyone else having fun and want to join, too.

So, in the interest of literacy, I let them. Sure, I might have some nine-year-old kids staring wide-eyed at the word "genre" while seven-year-olds raise their hands and shout out the definition, but that's all good. They're being exposed to terms and methods they'll need when they're older.

Due to the nature of the Club -- it isn't school, so the schedule's loose -- and of the kids themselves, we need two or three sessions per topic in order to get everything done. Yesterday marked the second session on "Hero", in which the kids created a physical appearance for the hero of their story, and listed traits they think a perfect hero should have. Next time, we'll discuss why any interesting hero also has flaws.

So far, we have heroes ranging from FBI agents to Johnny Appleseed, and the selected genres tend to be mystery and action/adventure, but fantasy and science fiction also figure prominently.

Meantime, the participants have no problem revealing the "secret" name they chose for this novel-writing club: The Secret Merekat Dog Star Kitten Sparkle Conspiracy Noveling Club. Say that ten times fast.

Thursday, September 17, 2009


Rain's been falling for days in the Arkansas River Valley, yards are saturated, and ditches run with water the dirty red-brown of the native clay.

At work, our fields are so soggy that the building was crammed with football teams, parents, coaches, cheerleaders, all trying to find room for meetings, uniform suit-outs, even practices. Thank God, I have an office and can close the door against the mayhem; my expertise lies in the afterschool education and arts programs, so any sports scheduling questions directed at me would only have been referred to the athletic director, anyway.

Long before we opened for business in the afternoon, I went to Walmart and bought a few supplies. On my way through the double entry, my shoes -- the slick soles covered in a film of water -- departed the floor and deposited me upon it. That was one of the fastest falls I've ever taken. (When I fell out of the van back in December, at least I had a chance to somewhat mitigate the damage by falling smack into the side of my truck.)

After arriving home Wednesday night, I took some ibuprofen to fend off the pain from bruises and offended muscles. Hey, I ain't as young as I wish I were, and this body hitting that terazzo floor wasn't a pretty thing.

By Friday, the sun is supposed to return, the temperature will rise, and we'll "enjoy" the humidity as the already wet air gets steamed. Yippee.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Screenplay Entry Complete

It's done. The screenplay contest entry is complete and out the door.

As I wrote to my friend Andrew, who was one of a handful of readers who helped proof and critique the entry during my headlong rush to the deadline:
Whatever happens, hopefully I won't be intimidated by a screenplay competition ever again. First, of course, I need to brush up on the proper formatting, and become accustomed to a different way of thinking. One approaches a screenplay far differently from the way one writes a novel -- something I've heard often but never quite believed until I actually had to do it.

Can't tell you how energized I feel! No, I don't really expect to win -- that's entirely up to God -- but I'm just happy I met the challenge.
Ever feel that way? Who cares about the winning or losing? It's secondary to the fact that the challenge was met, the task was finished, the top of the mountain has been gained.

Well, yeah, winning or losing is important. I very much want to win, or I wouldn't have made the attempt. But I don't need someone else's judgment to know I can write.

Those who know me well know how much I love movies. If I'm one of the small group selected at the end of the competition, I'll have a chance to work with a professional screenwriter on a project. Very, very cool.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Thieves' Honor Update

Episode 9 -- "Endgame, Part 2" -- is now available in Ray Gun Revival, Issue 54, and the as-yet-untitled Episode 10 is still in the works.

Check out some great science fiction, and how cool is this cover?

Happy Third Anniversary, RGR!

Monday, September 7, 2009

Labor Day

The first Monday in September is designated Labor Day here in the United States, but until this morning, I never knew the truth behind the holiday, which can be read here. (Stuff I was never taught in school; anyone else recall a lesson in the history of Labor Day?)

So, all you who labor, I hope you are allowed this to relax from you hard work, and to reflect with gratitude on the fact that you still have jobs while so many of our fellow citizens are losing theirs.

I know I am certainly grateful for mine, despite my past complaints, because I know it is honest and good work, and I am not ashamed to tell people what I do for a living. I just wish I could do it better.

Taking Risks - Part 5

Previous posts under "Taking Risks": 1, 2, 3, 4.

Warning: What follows is not for everyone. Some will view it as a sermon or propaganda. Some will be offended. So be it.

Some will wonder what in the world this post has to do with the theme of this blog.

Simple: If I am going to pursue further adventures in fiction, I need to know a few things. I need to remind myself of the risks involved in real life, so that I may write the fictional dangers with conviction.

I am facing mental blocks in my writing at just the time when I need to words to flow; in my work life, I am facing resentments and misunderstandings over decisions I've made that affect other people. Therefore, this post is not only a catharsis of sorts, it is a declaration of purpose.
Proceed with caution.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

I am an unabashed Christian. There was a time I hid my faith because I was mocked for it, derided and even accosted for it, but that was a long time ago, in my teens and early twenties. The compromise and the fear galled me until, after much internal anger and much prayer, I came to a decision:
For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation to everyone that believeth... . Romans 1:16, KJV, Holy Bible
And then there was this:
Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell. Matthew 10:28
Why was I so afraid? Call me names, punch me or throw stones, kick over my backpack or throw my Bible back and forth, no one could harm me. Not in the eternal sense. And the One Who could do me harm has promised not to do so:
"...For I know the plans I have for you," declares the Lord, "plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future... ." Jeremiah 29:11
Have not I commanded thee? Be strong and of a good courage; be not afraid, neither be thou dismayed: for the LORD thy God is with thee whithersoever thou goest. —Joshua 1:9

"Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; you are mine.When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze. For I am the LORD, your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior... ." —Isaiah 43:1-3
I could go on, quoting passages of Scripture where mankind is encouraged to be bold, be brave, be intrepid, because no matter where the road leads, we always have a home. We always have strong hands that will hold us upright, or catch us when we fall. We can face natural storms and human threats. We can take the bruises and the wounds and even death. We can face illness, bankruptcy, homelessness. We can "walk through the fire".

We fear pain
I fear pain and loss, humiliation, grief, retaliation, the death of dreams.

Should any of those keep us from doing what must be done? From doing the right thing
morally and practically?

A post by hiscrivener at The Writing on the Wall has been dogging me since the first time I read it and watched the video that accompanies it. The post is titled "Run for Your Life", and the video concerns a portion of a powerful sermon delivered on the first Sunday after 9/11. Watch it. Make a decision.

I do not want to serve fear, nor do I want to run away when I should run straight toward the thing that causes the fear. I do not want to live my life based on other people's lack of faith or conviction; why should their opinions or beliefs hold sway over me? They are not my master.
And if it seem evil unto you to serve the Lord, choose you this day whom ye will serve... . —Joshua 24:25
photo c. 2008, Stephen Easter

Saturday, September 5, 2009

So, This Screenplay Thing... more difficult than it looks.

And time is running out.

I have a week and a half to finish a 2,000-word summary and a scene, and I'm blank.

Oh, there are notes upon notes, and copies of screenplays, and how-to pages, all filed together in a bright red binder, but I got nothin'.

It's worse than a blank page for a novel. At least I know I can write a novel.

But I've been tossing posts onto the blog about taking risks, so the gauntlet's been thrown. I can't back out now.

Me and my mouth -- uh, keyboard.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

A Brief Review of HFQ's First Issue

A couple of months ago, I promised my friend Dave over at Heroic Fantasy Quarterly that I would offer reviews of the fiction and poetry published in the first issue, July 2009. Though it has been a long time in reaching fruition, I have not forgotten that promise.

First, the poetry. "Ansel's Army" by Elizabeth Barrette describes a rebellion of adherents to an old religion against the armed invaders bringing a new one. To me, it reads like a commentary on the Druids and the Christians. The poem is well composed and solid, and the language is fresh. Though I do not hold with either side -- either paganism or "Christianity" imposed at the tip of a sword -- I can appreciate a well-told story, and the notion that ideas are most persuasive when lived rather than pushed.

Another poem, "Leo Passimus Remembers His First Voyage" by Danny Adams, is a wanderer's recollections of fantastic journeys, none of which compare to what he left behind:
But you, my love, at every sunset
Your hair spilled across the world’s shoulders,
Crafting night.

* * *

Will I take any more voyages?, you asked
Before I left on this ill-starred sail.
No, tonight my wanderlust is smoke
Here many trips removed, stranded –
Wishing I’d made you the only oracle I desired.

I like this poem. It's full of wonder and melancholy, and makes me wish some fantastical tales really were true. Great inspiration for a writer.

And now the fiction -- three short offerings.

"The Black Flowers of Sevan" by James Lecky is unexpected. The ending is not telegraphed by the beginning, though elements of the end are very much present. We begin with Tulun and Abbas engaged in a game of strategy and then in a wager:

“What is the wager?” I asked.

“A simple but entertaining one.” He sat down at the low table and looked me in the eye. “I wager that you cannot bring me a flower plucked from the Melik’s palace.”

“Only that?” It would be a difficult — but not impossible — wager to win. Valerian Bal was well known, indeed mocked in some circles, for the beauty of his gardens.

“Not quite. I require a very specific bloom to fulfill all conditions of our bet.”

“Name it.”

“A black poppy from around the neck of the Lady Shimshal.”

There are swords and severed heads and a sad-eyed lady, an amiable but evil king, a chamber of secrets (that has nothing to do with a certain boy wizard), and a twist of an ending. I enjoyed the story, but felt a little cheated, too. Can't quite articulate why -- it's just a gut feeling.

In "Man of Moldania" by Richard Marsden,

Golorus von Zekwit, last surviving member of the Most Catholic Order of the Claws and probably the last dragon slayer in existence, stared at the crude map, glancing up with a furrow of a white brow to take in the sight of the town.

This one had me smiling, not because it's meant to be comic, but because of Golorus himself. There's a bit of tongue-in-cheek slyness about him, and a world-weary honesty, and this tale of the last dragon slayer is the most entertaining of the three stories in this issue.

Brother battles brother in "Beyond the Lizard Gate" by Alex Marshall, as Inarus and Agenor struggle for supremacy:

But just then Inarus had heard the peal of trumpets above the din and the ground shook with the rumble of hooves. From a cloud of dust at the valley’s western end, four thousand knights of Novgorand thundered into the enemy’s rear, the horsemen a glittering wedge that clove the squalling dragomen like a steel-prowed ship forging through a darkly boiling sea.

That action marked the tide’s turning, but still Agenor escaped him! As Inarus’ army rallied with new heart and new strength in their killing arms, the winds died, the doom-laden atmosphere lifted, and Agenor was gone — passing like night before the implacable face of dawn.

This is a story steeped in necromancy and revenge. The former doesn't interest me, but the latter can make for strong conflict and intriguing tales. Revenge is a strong drink, and those bent on it rarely heed warnings to the contrary, and often to their doom. In this story, however dark the ending, there is still a glimmer of light.

So, what's my overall opinion of this first outing by Heroic Fantasy Quarterly? Pretty solid. I look forward to reading more, and hope the magazine continues strong, fueled by more quality writing.

artwork c. Justin Sweet

Jury Duty

For the next four months, I belong to legal system. I was called in today, and must report again next week, but am not looking forward to the lack of sleep. This time of year, my work schedule tends toward afternoons and evenings; court begins about half an hour before I wake up. I shall endeavor, however, to exchange robe and slipper for something more appropriate to the jury box.