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Chris Naron
Vidad MaGoodn
Vidad's Flaming Drones of Death
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Henry the V
Al, The New Guy
Michael Maier
Flicka Spumoni
Passin Through
Sean, the Were-seal
Water Buffalo
Frau im Mond
Ian McLeod
Captain Slack
J. Max Wilson
Carl V.
Damaged Justice

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Thursday, January 31, 2008

Friday Challenge Update

Just a reminder that the deadline for this week's Friday Challenge is 8PM CST, Friday, February 1. If you want to enter, there's still time to post your entry. If not, remember that comments on and votes for the other entries are also welcome. if you want to know what the fuss is all about, click the link.

That is all.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

A Real Duesy

It was an historical drama set in a much earlier time. In a throwaway line, a minor character referred to a impressive obstacle as "a real doozy."

That stuck in my craw. The slang term, "doozy," first entered the lexicon as "Duesy," being an admiring reference to the products of the Duesenberg Automobile & Motors Company, which were the high-performance muscle cars of their day. This expression would have had no meaning for anyone living before the 20th century. In the context of that particular historical drama, it was, at that moment, a jarring anachronism.

Words are my tools, and my toys. I don't advocate a slavish adherence to historically correct language in your fiction, as after all you are writing for a contemporary audience and need to be understood, but do give a thought from time to time to your character's use of idiomatic expressions. When was the last time you actually "dialed" a phone call? When was the last time your phone actually "rang?" (Actually, mine does all the time, but only because I selected an audio sample of an old mechanical phone ringing to use as the ring tone.)

I'm particularly fascinated by the way colloquial English has evolved in response to technology. The evolution continues to this day, and can be presumed to continue on into the future. If you don't believe that, you've obviously never gotten up a head of steam only to get derailed when you found you were on the wrong track, or gone off half-cocked when your brilliant idea turned out to be just a flash in the pan.

That's today's exercise. What's your favorite technologically-sourced idiomatic expression? What words are in your vocabulary today that would have made no sense at all to a fluent and educated English-speaker of 50 years ago? And if you're feeling really ambitious, what words do you think might be in the lexicon in another 50 years, based on the social and technological trends you see around you today?

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Purging Cache

One of the problems with having both a blog and a life is you tend to accumulate all sorts of bits and ideas that would probably be worth writing about, if you just had a little more time to develop the idea. But right at this exact moment you don't have the time to do the idea justice, so you push it onto the stack — and push something else onto the stack — and then push something else onto the stack — and pretty soon you've got this huge, unstable backlog of ideas looming up over you, demanding that you do something with it before it falls over and breaks something or hurts somebody. But the time to properly develop the ideas still doesn't exist, so at times like this, I usually find what's called for is a quick & dirty cache purge.

Here's what I have not been writing about in recent days.

Recommended Reading: Splatter Flicks - How to Make Low-Budget Horror Films, by Sara Caldwell       Publisher's Site | Amazon link

I know quite a few of you have an interest in filmmaking. Heck, even I have a more than modest interest in the subject. If nothing else, over the past three years we've kept coming back to the question of why movies based on books differ so greatly the books, and just what it is that makes writing for screen so different from writing for print.

As part of my ongoing search for answers to this mystery, I've just finished reading Caldwell's book. It is specifically, as the title states, a how-to guide for amateurs and low-budget independents working in the horror genre. But if you're looking for a very readable and entertaining high-level view of the filmmaking process, from start to finish and then some, and an understanding of just why there are so many names on the credits, what exactly a "gaffer" does, and how the finished script is only the start of the process, this book makes a good introduction.

Recommended Reading: Atlantic Monthly Flashbacks

For 150 years, The Atlantic (aka Atlantic Monthly) has been publishing some of the most thought-provoking contemporary writing to be found. For most of this time, you had to buy the magazine to read it; even when they did finally launch a web site, their treasure trove of old material remained inaccessible.

Until now. While their full archives are reserved for subscribers only, they've recently launched Flashbacks, which makes an enormous amount of selected material available for free. Want to read some of the articles that Mark Twain wrote for The Atlantic? They're here. Want a century and a half of advice for writers cooked down to one short article? It's here. Want to see what else is available? Start here.

Me, I could spend hours wandering around this site, just tracking down gems like this little short-story that some 26-year-old guy named Rudyard Kipling sold to The Atlantic in 1891.

Minnesota Book Awards Finalists Announced

The shortlist for the 20th Annual Minnesota Book Awards has been announced. As someone who's been a finalist for said award in the past, I am available to all current finalists for one-on-one coaching sessions. (Repeat after me: "It's an honor just to be nominated." And remember to smile!)

Otherwise, I don't have a lot to say about this one. I'm interested to see that one ibook has made the list; discouraged to see that so many foundation-funded books have made the list. But before I go all Adam Smith on you, let me just throw out the question: are there any books on this list that you've read and would recommend?

And last but not least, it's time for a blogroll update

As was recently made clear to me, my blogroll of friends is way out of date and needs to be revised. If you'd like me to post a link to your site, let me know.

Th- th- th- that's all, folks!

Saturday, January 26, 2008

And the winner is...

This one caused a lot of heated debate here at Casa del Calamaro. Everyone laughed out loud at Claymore's entry — and then apologized profusely for doing so. In the end it came down to Giraffe, who wrote a really tight and funny little piece, or Rachel, who really got into the role, setting up and delivering a terrific ending. Ergo, in the final analysis...

Aw, heck, it's a tie. Giraffe, come on down to claim your prize. Rachel, "K" insists on picking out your prize personally, so be afraid. Be very afraid.

Now, as for this week's Friday Challenge: remember, what we're looking for is your best rant about driving. Pro, con, about yourself or about all those other idiots who are out there on the road and in your way; or maybe you just want to tell us a story about some adventure you once had with some unforgettable car you once owned. For example, way back in the day I owned an old air-cooled Volkswagen Beetle, and one day I accidentally proved that those old VWs really could float.

But that's a story for another time. What we're looking for now is your story.

To enter the contest, either post your story in the Comments for this blogbit, post it on your own blog or website and post a link here, or if you don't have a blog or website and your entry runs afoul of one of Haloscan's secret limits (we discover new ones every week), you can always send it to me and I'll convert it to PDF and post it for all to see. As always, we're playing for what's behind Door #2, the contest will be judged by the official Friday Challenge rules, which bear more than a passing resemblance to those for Calvinball, and even if you don't enter, you are encouraged to comment on and vote for your favorites among the other entries. Also, as of right now, I have a new thought: shall we make the winner of one week's contest the Celebrity Co-Judge of the next week's contest?

Friday, January 25, 2008

Friday Challenge Update

Just a reminder that the deadline for this week's Friday Challenge is 8 P.M. CST today. If you were thinking about posting an entry, there's still time; if you haven't read or commented on the entries already posted, there's still time for that, too.

Update to the update, Saturday morning: Oh, boy, this is a tough one this week! Ben-El's entry cracked me up. cartusiae got me with, "Social Justice would point out St. Francis never had problems with the wildlife. Missions would note that Francis was a damned papist." Adam F. had me snickering on Day 15, Claymore got me on Day 7, and I laughed out loud at the entries from Giraffe and Rachel. And then there's Vidad, who I'm beginning to think is in danger of losing his amateur status.

I'm going to switch on the comments, go get another cup of coffee, and ruminate on this some more.

In the meantime, the Friday Challenge for January 25, 2008 is that I'm looking for your best rant on driving. F'rixample, what drives me nuts every year at about this time is that, being winter, people back off on their normal maintenance schedule. They don't clean their windshields, they don't clean their headlights, and worst of all, they forget to check their turn signal fluid level.

That's why their turn signals stop working, isn't it? Because they ran out of blinker fluid?

As always, we're playing by the rather informal rules of the Friday Challenge and playing for whatever is behind Door #2. Even if you're not writing an entry, you're encouraged to read, comment on, and vote for your favorites among the other entries.

Ready? Then gentlemen (and ladies), start your engines!

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

The Blog as Serial Narrative

How do you think of your blog? An open letter to the world? Your personal journal which happens to be public? The safety valve that keeps you from going postal and climbing to the top of some nearby tall building with a bullhorn and a deer rifle?

Many of us who prattle on in the blogosphere have a tendancy to think of ourselves as citizen journalists, occupying that sprawling space between The Official Major Media and the highly opinionated windbag on the second stool from the right at the corner bar; between the easily punctured myth of professional journalistic objectivity and the purveyors of sheer shameless agitprop. We lay claim to the traditions of the Revolutionary War pamphleteers, the underground press, and the Russian samizdat writers — or in my case, I tend to think of myself as the host of some small-market public radio talk show, struggling to keep the conversation going and slipping in the occasional public service announcement when I need to duck out to the bathroom. Most of what I write is in direct response to either posted comments or personal email, albeit sometimes rather obliquely.

The one thing we all seem to have in common here is a faith in veracity: that what we write is the truth, at least as we see it, or at least that most of the rest of our fellow bloggers are writing something that is very much like truth.

That's not true, of course.

There have been some notable attempts to use the blog as a form of serial fiction, albeit mostly notable in a negative sense. The young career woman who attempts to replicate the Sex and The City formula by writing a diary about her fantastic sexual adventures, and those of her friends: while these have been parlayed into six-figure book deals, the books have pretty uniformly flopped, and the more cynical among us have begun to suspect that the "diary" that supposedly spawned the book was the publisher's contrived media campaign all along. The young man supposedly blogging between combat patrols in Iraq or Afghanistan: several of these have been exposed as despicable politically motivated frauds, and when exposed these writers tend to be treated with the scorn and contempt they deserve and slink back to the sewers that spawned them.


But, do you know of anyone who has created a blog as a deliberate and known work of fiction, and if so, have any succeeded in drawing a sustained audience? It strikes me that a blog as sit-com, or a blog as romantic drama, should be able to tap the same sort of interest that draws people to television series.

Why do you blog? How important is "truth" when you choose what to write and which blogs to read? Would you read an entertaining blog that you know is fiction?

Tuesday, January 22, 2008


It's mid-winter, late January, in the deep freeze of Minnesota. Twenty-some degrees below zero — Centigrade, because that sounds more impressive; it's actually only about five below Fahrenheit. The sky is astonishingly clear. As I take the dog out for her first morning's romp around the yard, the rising Sun is just a vague pinkish glow a half-hour below the southeastern horizon, while the setting full Moon is a fat, cold, searchlight hanging low in the western sky. Moonlight looks "cold" because the Moon absorbs the longer wavelengths and reflects the shorter wavelengths in the sunlight it receives. If we could see further into the blue and ultraviolet end of the spectrum, as deer can, it would be bright as mid-day now.

I breathe through my nose; it's so cold, the moisture in my breath condenses on my nose hairs and in short order turns to ice. It's so cold, last night's fresh dusting of snow squeaks underfoot when I walk.

That's today's exercise. As you go through your day, try to notice one unique sense cue that makes the place where you are now clearly distinct from everywhere else. What is that cue?

Monday, January 21, 2008


I've been having a sidebar discussion with Leigh, who's written a novel but despairs at ever selling it to a print publisher. Leigh's current idea is to put the novel out there on the web as a serial, under the terms of the Creative Commons license, and asks:
How might I vector more eyeballs to my story?
Well, that's the mystery we're all trying to solve, isn't it?

The Baen Free Library is one approach that's proven to work — sort of. If you're already a published author and if you've got a new book to promote, giving away your backlist for free works quite well. It whets the readers' appetites for the new book; to a certain extent it stimulates sales of hardcopies of your backlist titles. But it is kind of predicated on the assumption that you're already Lois McMaster Bujold, and that a significant number of readers are already willing to go out of their way to look for downloadable work by you.

If, on the other hand, you're more or less unpublished and unknown, the question remains: how do you pull yourself up by your bootstraps?

I like the approach Chris Muir has taken with his "Day by Day" cartoon. If you like the strip, you're free to put it on your web site, provided you do so by dropping in the one line of HTML code that Muir provides. No advertising or pop-ups tag along; your readers have to click through to Muir's site to appreciate the barrage of ads and Cafe Press tschottkes that apparently make the strip worth Muir's while.

But I question whether this approach is transferable to print fiction. "Day by Day" is a soap-opera presented in three panels and six lines of dialog daily. It plays to the strengths of the web; it's short, witty, cynical, colorful, and easily assimilated in a glance. More importantly, Muir posts something new daily. In the three years I've been doing this blog, I've really come to appreciate the value of that concept. The web is very much of the moment; very devoted to ephemera. In the world of the web, if you don't encourage your readers to make a daily habit of visiting your site, your readership dwindles fast, and it can take weeks to recover from a three-day hiatus.

So in a world where reading even a 750-word column is a chore, how do you take a full-length novel and turn it into something that attracts a steady readership? Should we even be thinking about "the novel," or should we be talking about some new episodic form of story-telling more akin to radio theater?

Beats me. I'm open for suggestions. What do you think?

Sunday, January 20, 2008

The Friday Challenge Arrived on Sunday This Week

First off, thanks to everyone who entered or commented on the 1/11/08 Friday Challenge. It's always nice to have the problem of trying to select from among too many good submissions. After giving it careful consideration, though, while rycamor's entry made me laugh out loud and BWWB's entry made me shake my head in knowing sympathy, I have to pick Vidad MaGoodn as the winner, for an entry that was crisp, concise, and beautifully written. It started strong, ended strong, made his point with subtle wit, included not one wasted word, and best of all, seemed to motivate the rest of you to get off your duffs and submit an entry.

Vidad, come on down and claim your prize.

Now, as for this week's challenge: since it's a short week, I'm tossing out a short assignment. We had a diet book come into the shop the other day, written by someone with rather shaky nutritional credentials, which argued that the reason why squirrels have so little excess body fat is because they eat a diet high in nuts. (The author seemingly missed the fact that squirrels also spend all day engaged in the highly aerobic activity of running up and down trees.)

Ergo, your challenge is to imagine you have just started The Squirrel Diet, a healthy high-fiber diet consisting entirely of unsalted nuts, fresh or dried fruits, gnawable raw vegetables, and spring water, and you are keeping a daily diary of the changes you feel in your health and attitude as the diet progresses. E.g., "Day One: Began the squirrel diet today. I miss my morning coffee, but surprisingly it was not hard to fill up and feel satisfied on cashews, dried apricots, and carrots. Drank a half-gallon of water, and for the first time in weeks I feel really well-hydrated.

"Day Two: Slept like a log last night, and woke up feeling fantastic. Weighed myself; I've lost three pounds already! Went for a walk, and it was like looking at the world through new eyes. Why have I never noticed before how beautiful trees are?

"Day Three: The dog is starting to stare at me strangely..."

In keeping with what we learned last week about Haloscan, I'd like to propose a few changes in the way you can submit entries. If you want to write up your diary as one piece and post it, feel free to do so. If you'd rather post it on your own blog and post a link to it, that'll work, too. Or, if you'd rather treat this as an ongoing project, and actually post a new daily entry each day, that might turn out best of all.

As always, we're playing by the rather informal rules of the Friday Challenge, and playing for whatever is behind Door #2. Even if you're not writing an entry, you're encouraged to read, comment on, and vote for your favorites among the other entries.

Ready? Then get cracking!

Friday, January 18, 2008

Friday Challenge Update 1/18/08

I've been fighting off the mother of all head colds this week, but this morning she launched a surprise attack on a new front and claimed total victory. This has also turned out to be a very exciting week for the Friday Challenge, but I'm way too fuzzy-headed right now to render judgement, so instead, here's a bunch of links.

The original challenge was posted here. Vidad MaGoodn and Ben-El posted entries in the Comments section, here, but I thought Vidad's was good enough to pull out into its own post, which you'll find here, and ever since everyone else has been posting their entries in the Comments for that post, here — except for Henry Vogel, cartusiae, and rycamor, whose entries were too big to fit into Haloscan, and so are posted at their respective links. (And we now know something new and important about Haloscan, too, which suggests that this process requires a little more fine-tuning.)

Meanwhile, with your kind permission, I'm going to slurp another cup of lemon tea, take some more Advil Cold & Sinus, and go back to bed. Let me know how the voting turns out.


Wednesday, January 16, 2008


VD writes:
...what I'd like to see more of here is your old short stories, accompanied by a technical analysis of why you think it worked or not, and what you would do differently if you wrote it again now.
In hindsight, what worked best for me was something that can't be reproduced now. When I first set out to get serious about getting professionally published, some thirty years ago, there were six pro magazines on the market, most of which were monthlies, and at least two dozen semi-pro mags, some of which paid decent word rates but didn't just didn't have the circulation to count as "pro" markets. In those days SFWA's criteria for determining whether a magazine was a pro market combined both the word rate and the circulation, and the big dog in the marketplace, Asimov's, started at 5 cents a word and reached a paid circulation of 100,000 copies monthly.

Things change. Most of those magazines are gone, and those that remain of the old guard are thinner, either semi-monthly or quarterly, and busy watching their circulation numbers drop like concrete Stukas. By the rules that were in effect when I first joined SFWA, even today's Asimov's would no longer count as a "pro" market. So when considering what made some of my old short stories successful, there is a certain element of the "In a hurricane, even turkeys can fly" principle at work.

Things change, and people and institutions adapt. A few weeks ago I had dinner with the editorial troika that runs one of the new up-and-coming pro magazines. They're bright, likable, creative people, brimming with ideas and ambition. Their magazine is getting great reviews and building a terrific reputation. They pay 6 cents a word for fiction, which by SFWA's current rules makes them a professional market. Their most recent issue sold 100 copies.

There were drinks. Alcohol loosens tongues. I asked how they could possibly survive on those sales numbers, and the short answer is, they don't. The editors all have other jobs. The magazine has what amounts to a corporate patron who's pumping in money for pure love of literature, with no hope at all that it might ever become profitable.


Confession time. For the past year or so, K&B has been looking into expanding into small-press publishing. No matter how we crunch the numbers, though, the business case doesn't work, and every plan we come up with nets out to being an enormous time- and money-sink. Moreover, the more we study others who have become successful in this tiny sliver of the market, the more we see that those who succeed don't give a fig about growing their market by publishing stuff that people want to read. The survivors are those that go the 501(c) non-profit route, and their real business is not selling publications but attracting foundation grant money.

Those of you familiar with my history might remember that the reason why I quit doing music twenty-some years ago was that I got tired of all the petty politics and ***-kissing involved in playing the non-profit foundation grants and commissions game. I'm not eager to go back into it.

Your thoughts or suggestions?

Tuesday, January 15, 2008


Henry Vogel and cartusiae check in with entries that needed to be PDF'd and posted. Enjoy!

The Press Conference, by Henry Vogel

The Aufklarung Gambit, by cartusiae

Vidad MaGoodn rises to the Friday Challenge.
She walked into the room, sharp in her gray sweater and skirt.

“What are you doing?” she asked, seeing her husband staring at an unfamiliar blog, fingers poised over the keyboard on his mac.

“I’m trying to enter my first Friday challenge,” he replied distractedly.

“Friday challenge?”

“Yeah. This writer, Bethke, who’s like the founder of cyberpunk… he does this cool challenge every week where he gives people a topic and they try to write the best original piece.”

“I see. Did he write Snowcrash?” she said, sitting down.


“Okay, then I guess I don’t know him. So… what are you supposed to write about?”

“He’s asking us to do a rant about modern life.”

“Ah. You should talk about how much you hate the mainstream choices in this presidential race.”

“No, I can’t. See, this thing has restrictions. Like… I can’t talk about Mitt Romney’s weirdness or how I think Giuliani and Hillary are two heads on the same evil hydra.”

“Oh.” She looked up for a minute with pursed lips. “What about writing about illegal immigration?”

“No – I can’t do that either. I also can’t talk about gays, even though it would be fun.”

“Maybe you could talk about how much fun we had as kids… and how the new generation just doesn’t get it, because they’re so plugged into their stupid videogames, etc.?

“No. that’s another restriction. I can’t do the ‘kids these days’ angle.”

She got up from her seat. “Well honestly, I don’t know what you’re going to write if you don’t pick one of those topics.”

She exited the room, leaving the faint scent of sandalwood in her wake.

“Maybe I can rant about how many rules there are these days?” he muttered, to no one in particular.

Standing up, he flipped off his computer and started looking at his taxes for the thirtieth time.

“Yeah… maybe I’ll do that… when I get done with this mess.”

Monday, January 14, 2008

Monday Morning Terminatoring

UPDATE: 1/15/08
Okay, we watched the first regular episode last night, and it was disappointing. When even The Kid starts calling out plot twists before they happen, the writers are getting lazy and formulaic. His current theory is that the guy Sarah dumped in the pilot turns out to be the missing fourth member of the resistance team that was sent back through time to help them, and I have to second that guess.

Now, a terminator disguised as an overweight hispanic gang member covered with tats: that would have been creative. Ain't likely to happen, though. Instead, it looks like, as Bane said, this series is going to be Terminator: The Chick Flick, cross-cut with Dawson's Creek.

Didn't South Park do that one already?

A final thought: one thing that really bugged me in the pilot was the repeat of the "I'm trapped in a hopeless situation so I'm going to shoot myself" bit that was already used once or twice before in the movies. Now, it just so happens that I'm currently reading A Proud American, the autobiography of Medal of Honor winner and former South Dakota governor Joe Foss (Hmm, a great fighter and leader? Where have I heard that before?), and not once so far has Foss put a .45 to his own head and threatened to shoot himself if he didn't get his way.

Are Hollywood writers really such a bunch of passive-aggressive drama queens that they can't think of any other way for their hero to respond to a desperate situation other than to blow his or her own brains out? Or are they simply projecting their own despair at being under contract to write this mess?

All right, show of hands. Who here will admit to having watched Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles last night?

Now, who will admit to actually having been worried that the Cowboys-Giants game might go into overtime, thereby causing Fox to truncate or delay the premiere of T:TSCC?

Good. Admission is the first step in coming to grips with your geekdom.

At this point, I don't have a lot to say about the series. I've long since learned not to judge a TV show by the pilot that sold it to the network. A pilot is kind of like a first date; it's the second date that gives you a real clue where the relationship is going.

That said, it is nice to see Summer Glau working again. I've missed her kinda cute but utterly vacant face since Firefly was canceled. She really should start looking for other roles besides the 90-pound pixie who can throw around men three times her size, though. That shtick just isn't going to work when she's 40.

I liked the way they established the color-coding scheme. Okay, we now know that Terminators are like Jedi: the good ones have blue eye-glow and evil ones have red eye-glow. That'll save us a lot of time in future episodes. I also liked the way they used the time travel gimmick to break out of being stuck in the 1990s and establish a new continuity, and I liked the Max Headroomish retro-future "21st century tech built with 1963 parts" look of the time machine, for the fifteen seconds it was on-screen.

But other than that: okay, so in the future, John Connor will be the leader of the worldwide resistance and last, best hope of humankind, etc., etc., blah blah blah. It sure would be nice to see some evidence that he's at least capable of becoming that sort of person, and not merely a whining and self-pitying puddle of teenage snot being buffeted about by an inexorable fate.

For possible insight I turned to this interview with former local lad John Wirth, who's a writer/producer on T:TSCC. But he's on strike, so nothing much there.

Your thoughts and comments?

Friday, January 11, 2008

The Friday Challenge: 1/11/08

Okay, it's pretty clear that the winner of last week's Friday Challenge is AJW308. When even Bane concedes that he has been bested, there's little room left to argue. AJW308, contact me to claim your prize.

Now, as for this week's Friday Challenge: what I'm looking for is your best rant about modern life here in the early 21st century that does not involve presidential politics, illegal aliens, homosexuality, or "kids these days." What is the one thing you really miss about The Way Things Used To Be, or the one thing you know is really a relic of the last century but still hope never goes away entirely? If that doesn't trigger an idea, how about a few words on something that some old sci-fi writer predicted we'd have by now and totally missed the boat on, or some thoughts about the one thing you really wish we did have by now? (I mean, dang it, here it is the 21st century, so where's my flying car?)

As always, the contest will be judged by the somewhat relaxed rules for the Friday Challenge, with prizes to be awarded next Friday according to the principles enshrined behind Door #2. Think it over, and scribble something if you can. Either post your entry in the Comments for this blog item or, in accordance with the precedent recently established by AJW308, send me the file, and I'll PDF and post it for all to see.

Even if you're not writing an entry, you're encouraged to read, comment on, and vote for your favorites among the other entries. So relax, let your imagination off the leash, and remember: the Prime Directive here is to have fun.

Now get writing!

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

The Friday Challenge

UPDATE 1/9/08: Holy Moley! No wonder AJW308 asked if I had a preferred format for entries. He sent a script treatment! Rather than embed his entry in the Haloscan comments, I decided the only way to do it justice was to convert it to a PDF file and post it right here.

Read and enjoy, folks.

Original Post: 1/4/08

Picking a winner for last week's Friday Challenge turned out to be much tougher than I thought. Ben-El, your entry was nicely written but too much of an inside joke; Claymore, you have good ideas, but it needs more development. Giraffe, "a little morbid" doesn't begin to describe it, although you do have your fans, or maybe there are just more people out there than I thought who long to see Demi Moore die horribly.

In the end it came down to Carl, who wrote a really strong entry with a very effective ghastly twist, or Rigel Kent, who wrote an equally strong entry that turned in the other direction and salvaged some hope from the ruins. I thought Carl's ending would work better for a short story and Rigel's for a novel, but "K" disagreed with me, and in the end, she wound up decreeing a new rule. Given that "K" is the one who actually pays for these prizes, she pronounced it a tie, with awards to be given to both Carl and Rigel.

So there you have it: Carl and Rigel Kent, click here to claim your prizes.

As for this week's Friday Challenge: I've been thinking about the new Alien vs Predator movie, and mostly thinking about how this whole thing seems to be developing along the lines already established in the fine tradition of the kaiju eiga. (Japanese for, "monster movie.") Specifically I'm thinking of how you can get more mileage out of your movie monsters by combining them in myriad combinations: e.g., King Kong vs Godzilla, Godzilla and Mothra vs King Ghidora, Godzilla, Mothra and Rodan vs Gigan, Hedorah, and Mecha-Bambi, Tag-Team Cage Match, Two Out of Three Falls, etc., etc., etc...

I know that off in ComicbookLand they've already done Aliens vs Superman and Batman vs Predator. I've no doubt they've done others; I'm kind of afraid to look. But you know, the more I think about it, the more I realize that there is just one combination of contemporary movie monsters I would truly like to see on the big silver screen.

And that's this week's Friday Challenge. As of this moment, imagine you're part of the screenwriting team working on the script for (drum roll, please), Predators and Aliens vs Terminators. Now, don't bother thinking about the whole script; it's just a series of excuses to get from one stunt or effects shot to the next anyway and doesn't need to make sense. Your job is simply to write a description of the one key scene that will have 14-year-old boys going, "Wow! Cool!" for years to come.

One scene. That's all we ask.

As always, the contest will be judged by the somewhat relaxed rules for the Friday Challenge, with prizes to be awarded next Friday according to the principles enshrined behind Door #2. Think it over; scribble something if you can; post your entry in the Comments for this blog item. Even if you're not writing an entry, you're encouraged to read, comment on, and vote for your favorites among the other entries.

Relax, let your imagination off the leash, and remember that the Prime Directive here is to have fun.

P.S. And just one more little reminder here. The January 11 Friday Challenge will be for your best rant about life in the 21st century. I'm announcing this now so that you have an extra week to think about it and start working on it. Beginning Friday, 1/11/08, you can begin posting your rants or commenting on and voting for other's posts, with judgement to be rendered on Friday, 1/18/08.

Again, thanks to everyone who participates in these little experiments, and I look forward to seeing what you come up with given a bit more time to prepare.


Sunday, January 06, 2008

The Right Answer

I normally abstain from presenting a "right" answer to the Friday Challenge, but once in a while I can't resist. In response to the 12/28/07 Challenge, then, and perhaps in a fit of lunacy, I wound up writing the following.

If you missed it, the setup is that over the protests of frightened environmentalists, JOGMEC (the Japan Oil, Gas, and Metals National Corp. ) has launched a project to drill into and extract the frozen methane clathrate found in the Nankai Trough, about 30 miles off the coast of Honshu. Something has gone terribly wrong, though, and a thrilling plot has been developed and run to climax. Herewith, we present the final scene.


"I'm melting. I'm melting! Oh, you horrible children! What a world, what a world." With a final faint but hideous cackle, the evil hag vanished forever, leaving behind only a tall black conical hat and a pastel-colored pantsuit in an untidy heap on the floor.

Former President Gomer was thunderstruck. "Goll-lee! I always said she was a witch, but I never guessed she was a real witch! And all it took was a little water to make her go away. No wonder she was so afraid of rising sea levels." He shrugged, then shook his head. "Well, it just goes to show, you can be married to someone for forty years and still not know the first thing about 'em."

Daphne brushed the Former President's hand off her thigh and turned to the group with a smile. "Shaggy? Scooby? It looks like your usual clumsy cowardice has once again saved the day. How about a Scooby Snack?"

"Yeah yeah!" the boy and the dog responded together.

"Me too!" said Former President Gomer.

Meanwhile, Sheriff Magruder had pushed his Smokey-the-Bear hat back on his head and was scratching his scalp. "There's just one thing I still don't understand. If she was the Global Warming Witch," he pointed at the heap of clothing on the floor, "then who's that?" He turned and pointed at the Environmentally Displaced Snowperson, who roared and struggled briefly in the grasp of Magruder's deputies, then realized it wasn't working and gave up trying.

"That's easy," said Freddy, as he stepped up behind the Snowperson. "Professor Hayakawa discovered a cheap, abundant, and environmentally safe source of energy. Who is the one person in the world who stood to gain by keeping that discovery a secret?" Freddy grabbed the fur on the top of the Snowperson's head, gave it a triumphant yank, and the mask came off.

"The Former Vice-President!" Sheriff Magruder and Former President Gomer shouted together, the latter with bits and crumbs of Scooby Snack flying from his open mouth.

"Not exactly," said Velma, as she stepped up alongside Freddy. "You see, the real Former Vice-President was genuinely frightened when the Environmentally Displaced Snowperson first appeared. After that, though, you never saw both of them together in the same place at the same time. At first we thought this meant the Vice-President was disguising himself as the Snowperson, but then we found that clue in the old hotel room and realized it was the other way around. The Environmentally Displaced Snowperson had kidnapped the Former Vice-President and was taking his place! Which means that the real villain can only be—" Velma grabbed the hair on the top of the former Vice-President's head, gave it another hard yank, and this time the second mask came off.

"Zarthag!" Former President Gomer shouted.

Magruder's jaw dropped. "The adorable baby polar bear?"

"No, no," the former President corrected, "he's really the Ursinoid ambassador from the moons of Jupiter! It's like, Area 51 and all that stuff." He turned to Zarthag. "Dude, I thought you said you came in peace."

"That's what he wanted you to think," Velma said.

"The truth," Freddy added, "is that he was sent here to trick us into destroying our own industrial economy, reducing our own population, and triggering a new ice age, so that the Earth would an easy target for the Ursinoid invasion fleet!"

Zarthag snarled. "And I would have gotten away with it, too, if it wasn't for you meddling kids and your stupid dog!"

Magruder set his hat back on squarely his head and nodded firmly. "Okay, I've heard enough. Deputies, take him away." He turned to the Ursinoid ambassador and favored him with a grim smile. "Zarthag? We've got a nice escape-proof cage waiting for you in San Franscisco!" Magruder and the deputies marched out the front door, with Zarthag, still snarling, pinned firmly between them.

Former President Gomer watched them go, and then shook his head sadly. "The poor Former Vice-President," he said with a sigh. "He was kind of a bore, but all the same I'm gonna miss that big dumb jerk."

"There's no need for that, Mister Former President!" a familiar deep and slow voice boomed from the next room. The side door opened, and in stepped—

"Albert? Is that really you?"

"Yes, Mister Former President!" the real Former Vice-President said with a hearty grin. "Zarthag thought he might still need me as insurance, so he was keeping me tied up in the old abandoned sushi factory! That's where the kids found me and set me free. Thank goodness we didn't sign the Kyoto Treaty! I only hope there's still time to undo all the damage that my evil double did!"

"Good grief," the Former President muttered. "Less than a minute of him talking and I'm bored already."

"How about it, kids?" the Former Vice-President asked as he turned to the gang. "Are you ready to go out there and save the world? Then follow me! Mindlessly and without question!" The Former Vice-President turned and lumbered out the front door, and with a happy shout of Yeah!, Freddy, Velma, and Daphne ran after him.

Former President Gomer hung back. "Sure thing, Albert. You just go right on ahead. I'll catch up with you in a minute." As Shaggy brought up the rear, the Former President caught his sleeve.

"Say, Shaggy?" Gomer asked, as he held up a snack. "These Scooby Snacks of yours are really groovy and all, but I'm thinking they'd taste even better with a little -- er, oregano, if you know what I mean. Any idea where a deserving guy might find some good herbs?"

Shaggy did a double-take at the former president's broad wink, and then broke into a grin. "Sure thing, Mister Former President! Why, I've got a couple of pounds out in the van!"

"A couple pou—?" The Former President smiled even more widely, then nodded, draped an arm around Shaggy's shoulder, and gave him a buddy-hug. "Shaggy," he said, "I believe this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship." Together, the two of them walked out the front door. The Great Dane followed them out, pausing in the doorway to lift his head to the sky and let out a full-throated bay.

"Ruby ruby rooooooo!"

Saturday, January 05, 2008

The flag is at half-mast today... honor the passing Wednesday of George MacDonald Fraser: novelist, screenwriter, and author of the remarkable Flashman "memoirs." If you don't know his name you've probably seen one or more of his movies; if you liked Keith Laumer, you owe it to yourself to check out Flashman.

If you want to read simple adoration, Max Boot has a good piece on Fraser over at the Commentary Magazine site. If you'd prefer to read a serious obit instead and learn more about this man you should have known, try the Telegraph or Times sites.

Personally, I like the piece on the Daily Mail site, The last testament of Flashman's creator: How Britain has destroyed itself, as it's an except from Fraser's autobiography, The Light's on at Signpost. (Which it seems was never published in the U.S., and so is best sought on the site.) If nothing else, it's a good meditation on an author's committment to honesty. Few contemporary writers would have the spine to say:
The philosophy of political correctness is now firmly entrenched over here, too, and at its core is a refusal to look the truth squarely in the face, unpalatable as it may be.

Political correctness is about denial, usually in the weasel circumlocutory jargon which distorts and evades and seldom stands up to honest analysis.

It comes in many guises, some of them so effective that the PC can be difficult to detect. The silly euphemisms, apparently harmless, but forever dripping to wear away common sense - the naivete of the phrase "a caring force for the future" on Remembrance poppy trays, which suggests that the army is some kind of peace corps, when in fact its true function is killing.

The continual attempt to soften and sanitise the harsh realities of life in the name of liberalism, in an effort to suppress truths unwelcome to the PC mind; the social engineering which plays down Christianity, demanding equal status for alien religions.

The selective distortions of history, so beloved by New Labour, denigrating Britain's past with such propaganda as hopelessly unbalanced accounts of the slave trade, laying all the blame on the white races, but carefully censoring the truth that not a slave could have come out of Africa without the active assistance of black slavers, and that the trade was only finally suppressed by the Royal Navy virtually single-handed.

In schools, the waging of war against examinations as "elitist" exercises which will undermine the confidence of those who fail - what an intelligent way to prepare children for real life in which competition and failure are inevitable, since both are what life, if not liberal lunacy, is about.

PC also demands that "stress", which used to be coped with by less sensitive generations, should now be compensated by huge cash payments lavished on griping incompetents who can't do their jobs, and on policemen and firemen "traumatised" by the normal hazards of work which their predecessors took for granted.

Furthermore, it makes grieving part of the national culture, as it was on such a nauseating scale when large areas were carpeted in rotting vegetation in "mourning" for the Princess of Wales; and it insists that anyone suffering ordinary hardship should be regarded as a "victim" - and, of course, be paid for it.

That PC should have become acceptable in Britain is a glaring symptom of the country's decline...
So farewell to George MacDonald Fraser, a voice whose like we will not hear again. Salud!

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Why it's so hard to write fiction, Part 39

Sara Jane Moore, who in 1975 took a pot-shot at Gerald Ford in San Francisco, was released from prison Monday, after serving 32 years of a life sentence. Apparently the California parole board felt that as her only crime was the attempted assassination of an unpopular Republican president, she deserved a second chance.

The reason why Moore is merely a peculiar footnote in history — and a minor character in the Sondheim & Weidman musical, Assassins — and not a successful assassin, is because as she was starting to pull the trigger, she was tackled by Marine Corps veteran Oliver Sipple, who was legally disabled because of wounds received in Vietnam and at the time living on a VA pension in an apartment in San Francisco's Mission District. Sipple, who was gay but still in the closet, begged reporters not to delve too deeply into his personal life, but was outed anyway. As a result he was disowned by his family, subsequently collapsed into alcoholism, psychiatric, and other medical problems, and was found dead in his bed on February 2, 1989, at the age of 47.

The alleged friend, gay rights activist, and media darling who outed Sipple, Harvey Milk, went on to become, in 1977, the first openly gay man elected to the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, or for that matter, to any significant political office in America. His triumph was short-lived, however, as in 1978 he was gunned down by fellow Supervisor Dan White, a political ally of now-Senator Dianne Feinstein. In his trial, White claimed he was temporarily insane at the time of the shooting due to a combination of being depressed and having binged on junk food. The jury returned a verdict of, "We may be a California jury, but even we aren't stupid enough to believe that one." White went to prison for seven years, Castro Street erupted in riots over his light sentence, San Francisco went on a spree of naming things after Harvey Milk, and the so-called "Twinkie Defense" entered the American legal lexicon, to the unending joy of humor writers everywhere.

Strangely enough, at the time of the attempt on Ford's life, Sara Jane Moore was described as being merely an unbalanced middle-aged woman. No mention was ever made of her history of revolutionary radicalism or her connections to the Symbionese Liberation Army, but when SLA member and Minnesota's Own Celebrity Terrorist Kathleen Soliah went underground, the reason she took the name Sara Jane Olson was reportedly to honor her old comrade in arms, Moore. Soliah was arrested in 1999, tried and convicted on various charges relating to the SLA's various murderous activities back in the '70s, and sentenced to two consecutive 10-years-to-life terms, plus six years. On appeal this was reduced to 14 years, then to 5 years and some odd months, and then set back to 14 years, which under California rules means she is actually eligible for release in late 2009.

And what does this bizarre web of relationships and outcomes have to do with writing fiction? Simple. Fiction is required to make sense.

Reality labors under no such handicap.