Friday, March 29, 2013

Mock Personals: Mordecai

Name: Mordecai
Occupation: Hunter
Sex: Male
Age: Rather Not Say
Hobbies: Training bloodwings, cleaning guns, reloading, collecting Vault Key pieces.
Seeking: Anyone who can help me find The Vault. Preferably not a xenoarchaeologist, and preferably not insane, but I'll take what I can get. Must not mind gunfire. Guardian Angels preferred.

The first thing people usually notice about me: I'm a stranger in town... and to the whole planet.

What I’m doing with my life: Hunting for The Vault, hoping to find fortune and fame, and clearing out bandits, rakks, scythids, and lots and lots of skags.

The six things I could never do without: My pet bloodwing, a sniper rifle, a revolver, a pistol, a decent ride, and a whole lot of ammunition.

You should message me if: you know how to open The Vault.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Allergy Symptoms: Old Blevins

One of the things that I really hate about allergy season is what it does to my concentration. I can stand the discomfort - the sore throat, the headache, the stuffiness - but it's so distracting. And before long, despite my best efforts, I turn into Old Blevins:

Season of Rebirth, My Fanny

Back in college we had a long talk in English 101 about the symbolism associated with the natural world. We talked about how the sun is traditionally presented as male, and the earth as female; we talked about the seasons, and how autumn was the season of death and decay and endings, while spring was the season of life, birth, and rebirth...

And I... just... no. No. I realize this places me completely at odds with most of Western Culture™, but that is completely wrong. Autumn is cool and clean, the season when I feel awake and alive and focused. The relentless heat of summer is finally letting go, the nights are getting longer, and I have my energy back.

Spring is the season of death. Spring is the time when I cannot breathe, when I walk around feeling as if someone has driven a nail into my forehead, when - basically - the air itself is trying to kill me.

Western Civilization has it backwards.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Real Work Conversations: United Way Auction Baskets

Accountant: "I have no idea what we're doing for our basket this year."

Me: "Eh, neither do we. It's IT, so we'll probably have some kind of technology, but..."

Accountant: "Yeah, but I'm supposed to be putting it together."

Me: "Oh. Okay, I can see where that'd be a problem."


Me: "Okay, so picture this: big basket, bottle of Jameson on one side, Bushmills on the other, six-pack of Killian's in the middle. And there, in the back center, a copy of How The Irish Saved Civilization. There's your basket idea."

Accountant: "You had me at 'Jameson'."

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Sodor Railways Exposé

Welcome to the Island of Sodor, boys and girls. Nice place, isn't it? Really lovely. I'm Diesel, by the way. Pleased to meet you.

I know, I know. You don't want me. You want Thomas. Story of my life, kids. And you don't like me at all. You all think I'm the mean one. I'm the one who's always causing trouble for the Thomas and rest of the steamies. Let me tell you, kids, you don't know how it is. None of you have any idea what it's like around here.

Thomas? Thomas doesn't see it. He doesn't have to. Why should he worry? He's the Fat Controller's favorite. What? Oh, right, you're Americans - you call him Sir Topham Hatt. Well, around here he's the Fat Controller, the terror of every train that works his railway.

Oh, sure, he likes to look good in public. Presents himself as stern but fair, maybe a little gruff, but working hard to make sure everything gets done on time. It's all propaganda, boys and girls. He hired a PR firm about five years back, to promote the island and manage his public image, and that was the best they could do with him.

You want to know why I spend so much time trying to make the other engines look bad? Why I keep doing things to prove that I'm better and more useful? Why I try to get the others in trouble?

It's because I have to. It's the only way to be safe.

You have to understand, the Fat Controller runs this island. Nothing happens here unless he allows it. The Mayor? Just a figurehead. So are all the rest. Even the Vicar is in the Fat Controller's pocket. And if you don't go along with the Fat Controller's program, well... he makes sure there are consequences. Do you know that he once had a steamy bricked up in a tunnel?

For an engine, that's some serious Cask of Amontillado-type nightmare fuel. And that's not the worst of it. Nobody talks about what happens when you aren't a Really Useful Engine anymore, but we all know. If you're not Really Useful, you're scrap. If you can't be repaired, it's the Smelter's Yard for you.

So I'll do whatever it takes to make sure the Fat Controller knows just how Really Useful I am, how much better than all the other engines. I have to.

It's the only security I have.

Monday, March 25, 2013

Vital Revocation Begins Anew

Okay, so, I've done a completely new opening scene over at The Shining Walls. This is, I think, a much stronger approach - but take a look, see what you think, and feel free to point out anything I've done wrong, including omitted words or basic errors in spelling and grammar. (I can't usually spot those until a good two weeks after initially composing something.)

Friday, March 22, 2013

Boy Wreck

Coming to you live from our bathroom: a tragic tale of two children trying to occupy the same spot in the bathtub.

Firstborn & Secondborn: "Ow ow ow ow ow!"

Beautiful Woman: "What happened?"

Firstborn: "Apparently we wound up in a Boy Wreck!"

The vital importance of having a Flossideegibbet

This just a little snapshot of a conversation, to give you some idea of what it's like living with me. Especially when I'm exhausted to the point of incoherency. To set the scene, we have both boys in the shower, and they are loud.

Me: {exiting bathroom} "I'm going to go get a floor-towel."

Beautiful Wife: {who can barely hear me} "A what?"

Me: {in hallway} "A floor... towel... thingummy."

Me: {Retrieving a suitable towel} "A whobiddiwhatsit."

Me: {Re-entering bathroom} "Here's your flossideegibbit."

Beautiful Wife: "Flossideegibbit?"

Me: "It's an old Norwegian term for a specialized towel that goes on the floor in the bathroom. They used to be made of reeds, which were called flossi - the same stem as dental floss."

Beautiful Wife: {Brief Pause}

Beautiful Wife: "Well, I feel very Norwegian now."

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Not Happenin'

Nope. Ain't happenin'. I still got nuthin'.

Since I can't be entertaining myself, I turn to you, my lovely readers. Have a hypothetical to play with: What's the most absolutely embarrassing position you can imagine being in when the End of the World arrives? If the kind of apocalypse matters to your answer, feel free to fill that in, too. Got any related thoughts, or tangentially related articles we ought to know about? Throw 'em out there.

Consider this an open thread.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Down With The Tummy Bug

So, my stomach is doing something... bad. Which means I'm home sick. Which means I don't have the focus to write anything worthwhile, even if I had a viable idea sitting in front of me. So, instead, I'm gonna recommend that you go read Nimona, which is the charming story of a young shapeshifter who sets out to become the sidekick of the Kingdom's greatest supervillain. Yes, really. It's hilarious and charming, so give it a try.

Meanwhile, I'm kind of down with the sickness:

I'll try to be interesting again tomorrow, I promise.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Filler: Music Goes Underground

Theme of this post may or may not be a reflection of the way I'm feeling at present. Ain't sayin'.

First up, David Bowie:

Follow us below for more...

Monday, March 18, 2013

The Final Revelation

Humankind has never controlled its own destiny. No race, no nation, has truly guided its own course. Would any species, left to its own, render its own environment uninhabitable? Of course not. We are being manipulated. Our actions are guided by alien beings who are using us as a mechanism of terraforming - or, more precisely, xenoforming. They let us think we work for our own goals and reasons, and if we start to catch on, well... a plague here, an unnecessary war there, and our civilization collapses - taking the threat with it.

The Black Death. China's bloody Warring States period. The burning of the Library at Alexandria. These "resets" slow the process, but they keep our overlords where they want to be: in control of an unsuspecting populace.

But today, new technologies allow us to share information as never before. We can make this data available to anyone who cares to look. These systems are a direct outgrowth of the technologies that our masters gave us so that we could transform the world for them, and today we will use their own advances to defeat them. Take the data gathered here. Copy it. Mirror this site. Translate it. Spread the message around the world. When enough people know the truth, their control will be broken.
James Lawson settled back at his desk and heaved a sigh of relief. It was done. The world was warned.

He hadn't started out as a conspiracy theorist. He'd come into this as a skeptic - just another reporter trying to earn a living. He'd been interviewing the lunatic fringe as a hobby for years, knowing that the crazier the people seemed on camera, the better they did in the ratings. Then he'd met the old man, a retired college professor with degrees in a half-dozen disparate subjects and a working knowledge of two dozen others.

It hadn't been like his other interviews. For one thing, the old man had sought him out. When Lawson had asked him just what message he wanted to share with the world, the old man had just shaken his head. "I'm not interested in the world, yet," he'd said. "I'm interested in you." He'd reached into a battered old briefcase, and produced an inch-thick folder of photocopies: academic articles, news clippings, scientific studies, and God alone knew what else. And he'd handed the whole thing over to Lawson. "I want you to look through this, and tell me that I'm crazy." Then, looking directly into Lawson's eyes, the old man had said: "You have no idea what a relief that would be for me."

What followed was two years of relentless investigation: checking figures, verifying stories, questioning experts, and examining sources. Several of the people he consulted became interested themselves, and began their own explorations. By the time they were done, they were a cabal of eight - and their conclusion was unanimous.

The old man wasn't crazy. Humanity was being manipulated, corralled into a course that would end in its own destruction.

They waited, gathering data, comparing it, trying to poke holes in it. It was so unbelievable, so completely insane, so wildly far out in tinfoil hat territory, that they knew their case would have to be absolutely airtight if they were going to convince anybody. And that was part of the problem: they didn't just need to convince some people, they needed to convince everbody, everywhere, all at once.

Finally, though, they had it. And Lawson, as the first investigator, had been chosen to share it with the world - to be the public face of the warning. Of the other seven, some would lend their reputations to boost his credibility; others would scatter, going into hiding so they could continue to spread the word if something went wrong.

Lawson rose from his chair and went into the kitchen. He felt safe enough here at home; with the information out on the Internet, anything that happened to him would only serve to confirm his theories. The overlords doubtless knew this; he expected them to try to discredit him, rather than attack him directly.

He pulled a beer from the fridge, and drank half of it. Done. At last it was done. And maybe, just maybe, they'd given humanity a chance.

A stroboscopic flickering at the window caught his eye. He turned, frowning slightly, and took another sip of his beer. It seemed like camera flashes, but this was too soon: even if every news network on the planet had leapt on his story, they couldn't have gotten reporters out to his place this quickly. And they wouldn't be using flashes to photograph his home, not in the middle of the afternoon.

Still frowning, he pulled back the blinds.

What had seemed like subdued flickering within the kitchen was a sequence of bright flashes outside the window. Lawson stared, puzzled. The window was on the north side of the house, so these would be north-northeast... the right general direction for Santa Fe. What the hell was going on?

The light show stopped before he could really try to analyze it. Heat lightning? Some sort of explosion?

James Lawson felt his stomach drop as realization set in. As if to confirm the horror he conceived, a new series of flashes started up: due north, and even brighter. Albuquerque, he thought. Sweet Jesus, we just lost Albuquerque. He had no doubt that Santa Fe was already gone. The overlords had seen his message. And they hadn't been stymied in the least. If everyone in the world knew about them, then everyone in the world had to die. For those cold, inhuman intelligences, the solution was simple. By sharing their information, the cabal of eight had doomed the human race... and maybe all of Earth. Maybe the overlords would leave someone alive, small enclaves of humans in remote locations, to start their process again. Or maybe they'd concluded that Earth was lost to them, and turned their energies to making sure that humanity couldn't have it either.

Lawson never found out which it was. He barely had time to notice the all-consuming light, before his house flattened itself and his tissues ionized.

Tip o' the virtual hat to Popehat for providing me with the story idea.

Friday, March 15, 2013

Notes from the Mad Science Lab: Plasma Drill

Let me begin by offering my apologies. I understand that my son got into the manufactory at my lab this past weekend, and caused some trouble at school.

This was probably inevitable: the boy has become increasingly curious about how I find time to actually make the things that I design, and Jeffries - my assistant, who was supposed to be watching him - was also trying to clean out the electric octogator tanks. So my son wandered off, and by the time Jeffries found him again, he was sitting in the cryptozoo, looking at the wooly spider-mammoths. Neither Jeffries nor I had any reason to suspect that he'd been... building things.

As to what he built... well, even allowing that he is my son, I have to express a certain amount of admiration, here. How many eight-year-olds would design a self-propelled plasma drill for their science reports on the Earth's crust? He even managed to add a working remote control... though, since he borrowed the specs for a new tachyon-based telemetry system that I'd just added to the manufactory, his drill would make adjustments slightly before he worked the controls. So what happened next is entirely understandable; drilling straight into the Earth's Mantle is a perfectly natural mistake. It could have happened to anyone.

So, madam Principal, while I appreciate your frustration at having to evacuate the school, I think you're taking the loss of the building just a little too hard. Nobody was hurt, after all; and how many students actually get to witness the growth of a volcano firsthand as part of their education? In these days of shrinking budgets for science education, this was a rare opportunity.

Hence, while I do regret the damage caused by the drill, I respectfully submit that you, the School Board, and indeed the entire Parent-Teacher Association are all overreacting. Don't think of this as a disaster; take it as an opportunity. How many other schools in the country can claim this level of hands-on science education? Once the new building is completed...

Of course, a new building. I do acknowledge some responsibility for this unfortunate mishap. And since the volcano is there, it seems a shame not to take advantage of the opportunity to install a geothermal power plant in the sub-basement. Madam Principal, your school never need to pay for electricity again. In fact, it should be able to provide for most of the surrounding community, which should ease some of the difficulties in your budget.

No, ma'am. Building permits are for conventional construction. Our public servants, wise and dedicated as they may be, lack the expertise to evaluate this design. They are welcome to look it over tomorrow, when it finishes growing; and of course I am open to any feedback they care to submit.

While I'm here, I would also like to protest the grade my son received for his assignment. Granted, he destroyed the school in the process, but that has nothing to do with the quality of his presentation. I firmly believe that offering his class a firsthand view of the Earth's crust - as well as genuine magma, and eventually lava - merits substantially better than an F. If you would just let me talk to his teacher... Oh, I see. Still in counseling?

Well, perhaps we can fix her, too.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Filler: Within Temptation

Okay, so... yeah. I'm sick. Stiff, sore, lethargic, run down... all that lovely stuff. One the one hand, this is a good time for it: Daylight Saving Time has just hit everyone in the forehead with a hammer (metaphorically speaking, of course). On the other hand, this is a particularly bad time to be sick: it's spring break, so taking a half-day sick and going home was nowhere near as calm or restful as I'd hoped.

Rambunctious boys are... rambunctious.

So, instead of anything trying to write anything ('cause, y'know, that requires my brain cells to be working), I'm putting up some music:

How 'bout I throw in a couple more songs below the cut? Sure, why not...

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Curse you, alarm clock! I liked that haunted manor!

I have strange dreams. At least, it seems to me that my dreams are more narrative and more memorable than what a lot of people get from their nightly Theatre Of The Absurd. Also, I get a lot more monsters in my dreams than most people do.

Last night's was a good example, and I wish I could remember more of it. Unfortunately, I dropped my alarm clock in the process of shutting it off, and by the time I'd located the clock, the cover, and battery... and reassembled them... and reset the clock... I'd lost most of the dream. It's a shame, because it was wonderfully atmospheric.

We arrived at the empty house; that was how it started. It was a big old place on the edge of a cliff, or possibly a ravine; a sprawling, two-story manor at the end of a cul-de-sac. It had a sunken half-basement that was divided between a solarium on one side and a rough-cut stone swimming pool on the other, but we didn't find that until later.

It wasn't entirely isolated; there were other houses around, and we spoke to a teenaged skateboarder on the street when we arrived. Also, we must have been there before; I remember being pleased that I was able to find the place again on the first try.

There weren't a lot of neighbors, though. That was related to the reason we'd gone there: it was big enough to house our band of survivors, or refugees, or whatever we were. The situation outside... it wasn't apocalyptic, exactly, or even post-apocalyptic. It was more like the world had become dark and corrupted, with strange and dangerous new plants and animals overrunning places that used to be safe and familiar. Presumably we'd left the cities because they'd been overrun, and there was a distinct air of escaping some sort of disaster, but the general feel was more ominous and strange than catastrophic.

We were going around making sure the place was secure - I remember, at one point, thinking that we'd need to make sure the boys stayed away from the cliff out back; and then, at another point, thinking that we'd need to secure the swimming hole in the basement. We were checking down there to make sure that nothing had decided to make a lair of the empty house, and then...

...there was a loud and persistent beeping. Curse you, alarm clock! I was enjoying that dream!

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Filler: Three Days Grace

Video done with clips from Dead Space. Works pretty well, I think.

That first mistake that leads to all the others...

That thing I did? You know, earlier this morning? I should have done that, that... what's it called, again?

Oh, yeah: getting out of bed.

Yeah, that was mistake.

Monday, March 11, 2013

If you read one thing this morning...

...Make sure you read chris the cynic's Guide to making Bad Movies for the Sci-Fi Channel. Go. Go now. Seriously. That article has just brightened my morning about a billion lumens. Probably evil alien lumens from beyond space and time, but there you go. Just read it.

What, you want a sample? Okay, fine.
Now you may be thinking at this point that you'll never make a movie for the Sci-Fi Channel because you don't know anything about the genre, or movies, or writing, or acting, or plots, or story telling, or any of that stuff. In fact, that's what makes it so likely that you will be approached to make movie for the Sci-Fi Channel.

If you knew how to write a script, they'd probably reject you out of hand. Trust me on this, I've been watching their movies for years.
Right? Now go, read, and enjoy. Your future Emperor commands you.

Something about Writing About Atheism

I don't write much about atheism; I don't write much about being an atheist. This isn't really an atheist blog; it's just a blog that happens to be written by an atheist.

But, in watching the stats for the Blog o' Doom here, I've noticed that I'd probably increase my traffic if I devoted more time to atheism and irreligion as topics. I have to admit, that has a certain appeal - there's a part of me that would love to have more of an audience. (It's really just a pity that more people don't have the wit and perception to be drawn to my unmistakable brilliance entirely on its own unmistakeable merits.[1])

The problem is, I couldn't do it. I don't have that much to say about the topic. "I don't believe in God." I don't really have much to add to that.

I was fourteen or so when Christianity quit working for me as a paradigm, as a way of looking at the world. I kept poking at it for a few years after that, sometimes struggling to see what I was - what I must be - missing in my view of it, and sometimes reviling it for making so little sense. Finally, I gave it up. Rightly or wrongly, I couldn't make it make sense to me - and I couldn't "choose" to believe in something that makes no sense to me. I still can't.

I dabbled in other things - New Age ideas, neopaganism, the abstracted and watered-down versions of other religions that are marketed to affluent Westerners - but none of them proved satisfactory either. I had the same troubles with them that I'd had with Christianity. So now, by process of elimination, I'm basically a materialist. If there's life after death, and it's governed by something merciful and just, I'll be pleasantly surprised. At the moment, that seems unlikely.

I'm not a Christian. I'm not a believer. I don't see things that way, because that way doesn't make sense to me. That's all there is to it, really. There's no deeper mystery, here. There's not a lot to discuss.

[1] Yes, this is irony.

Friday, March 8, 2013

Filler: Gorillaz

Haven't played any Gorillaz in quite a while, so...

In Soviet Russia, The Joke Gets You

In the process of getting Firstborn ready for school this morning, I made a joke. This was a mistake, and I probably shouldn't have done it.

I was trying to get him into his hoodie, so he wouldn't freeze on the way in. Simple enough, but when he went to put his arm in the sleeve, we discovered that the sleeve was inside out. Being stiff, tired, and only barely awake, I said: "Ha! In Soviet Russia, sleeve goes in your arm!" This, in my best (read: completely atrocious) Russian accent.

Firstborn, predictably, said: "What's Soviet Russia?"

So, by the time I dropped him off at school, we'd discussed the U.S.S.R., and the fact that it doesn't exist anymore; the country of Russia, and the fact that it does; Communism, both theoretical and applied; the difference between a "cold" war and a real war; and why, if the meteor strike in Russia had happened a few decades ago instead of a few weeks ago, it might very well have kicked off World War Three.

Fortunately, we got to the carpool line before I had to explain the concept of Nuclear Winter, or even the likelihood that World War Three would have lasted about two hours, and ended with no victors and everyone vanquished.

The Cold War was a constant background presence in my childhood, though I was never as traumatized by it as some people were; I just sort of assumed that we'd muddle through somehow. Still, I remember thinking at the time that the whole situation was pretty stupid, and that it required a high degree of stupidity from the leaders on both sides to have gotten there in the first place, let alone to stay there for as long as we did.

Now that I'm older, that seems even more true.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Notes from the Mad Science Lab: Microminiature Supercomputer

Ladies and Gentlemen, your attention please. I have an important announcement. After months of work, I have created a working prototype for a micro-miniaturized supercomputer. This system is only the size of your thumbnail, but it possesses more storage capacity than the entire Internet - and more processing power than the combined brains of everyone using the Internet... without, I might add, the peculiar obsessions with bacon and pictures of cats.

It was my intention to demonstrate this marvelous device for you here today. Unfortunately, on my way to the podium, I... dropped it.

Ladies and Gentlemen, please! Remain in your seats. If you set your feet down to look for it, you run the very real risk of... What's that, Hauer? You want me to look at... the bottom... of your shoe. Oh.

Very well, ladies and gentlemen. Today's exhibition is canceled. Doctor Hauer, I assume you understand that I will have my vengeance upon you. I will, of course, give you the customary two hours, so you can begin taking suitable precautions and employing countermeasures. For the rest of you, I must bid you good evening. There are refreshments in the antechamber. My assistant, Perkins, will see you out while I go plot my revenge.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Real Work Conversations: Helpdesk Ticket

Boss: Did you get an email back from the helpdesk?

Me: Yes.

Boss: What did it say?

Me: I don't know.

Boss: You didn't read it?

Me: I tried to read it. The words are in English, but the sentence is in babbly-gook.

Boss: Babbly-gook?

Me: Babbly-gook. Apparently they want to know if we used this one particular version of one thing to do something to some other thing. I'm guessing we didn't.

Boss: Guessing.

Me: Well, it would be a better guess if I had any idea what they were talking about. Should I write them back and tell them that I recarbonated the fibrillation unit on the oscillation overthruster?

Boss: Oscillation... No, no you shouldn't.

Boss: Besides, it's been a few years. They probably wouldn't catch the reference.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Recommendation: The Christian Guide To Atheists

One of my iFriends, Alise Wright, is starting a new series called The Christian Guide To Atheists over at her blog. It's off to a good start, and I'm looking forward to seeing where all she goes with it. It's basically an attempt to correct some of the common Christian misconceptions about atheists.

So, since the topic is sort of bouncing around out there, I thought I'd pull together some of the things I've written about atheists and atheism.

Introductory stuff:
If you don't know any atheists, or haven't really spoken to any atheists, or just have trouble imagining how it's even possible to not believe in God, this is a good place to start.
Atheism 101: How Atheists Actually Think
Terminology: agnosticism, atheism, antitheism
Bertrand Russell Redux, or Why I Am Not A Christian
From the Search Logs: Why Atheism is better? (a.k.a. Yes, we really believe what we're saying.)
Religion and Morality
Atheist Ethics

Friendly Evangelism
This was a series I did in response to a Christian who asked how to go about preaching the gospel to unbelievers and former believers without starting arguments or giving offense.
Opening Question
The Christian Imperative
What Is The Goal?
Whom Are You Talking To?
Why Unbelievers Talk About God
The Process Of Deconversion
Good Without God
Promoting Christianity To Unbelievers
Christian Parents Of Atheist Or Agnostic Children

How NOT To Talk To Unbelievers
This is sort of the opposite of the Friendly Evangelism posts; it's a collection of common mistakes. This was inspired by a conversation with a particularly... over-certain... Christian on another blog.
"You Were Never a Christian"
"You Know God Exists, You Just Won't Admit It"
Bertrand Russell Redux, or Why I Am Not A Christian
Don't Read The Map, Read The Terrain

It occurs to me that in spite of the fact that I don't really think of this as an atheist blog, or myself as an atheist blogger, I've written quite a bit on the topic in the last couple of years. That being the case, I really should add an "atheism" tag, and go apply it to the relevant posts...

Anyway, if you have any questions, or if there's anything you'd like to add, let me know. Comments are open.

Monday, March 4, 2013

Writing Process: Warrior's Legacy

Right, so: Warrior's Legacy is the working title for a project that I've been working on since... I don't know. Quite a while. A depressingly long time, in fact. It was originally intended to be a YA Fantasy book, but I found myself including more and more adult elements, so it's not YA anymore. And it's the most complete of my projects, insofar as I actually have a finished first draft. It's just that the first draft needs to be... well, I was going to say "revised", but actually it just needs to be rewritten. Completely. From the ground up.

The rewrite has consistently, persistently defeated me.

And yet, I keep coming back to it. I love the world; I love the characters; I just need a story that will plug those characters into that world.

Which was why, in the course of reading a bit of discussion about Problem Characters - characters who don't seem to want to do what they need to do for your plot - the first thing that leapt to mind was this:
What do you do with a character who's main motivation is not to be involved in the plot?

I have a story - an actual finished first draft, though it suffers from a bad case of Kitchen Sink Syndrome; it doesn't need to be revised so much as rewritten - in which the main character is just finishing up his training as a sort of magically-enhanced warrior. What he wants, basically, is to be left alone in his safe place. (Admittedly, "safe" is a relative term, since after he graduates he'll be living at the school when he's not going out on expeditions with the other mercenaries, but that's what he knows and is comfortable with.)

Now, as the author, I'd like to drag him out into the larger world - there are areas to explore, people to meet, secrets to discover, and just possibly a kingdom to rebuild... and he wants nothing to do with any of it. He just wants to go out, do the job, and come back home. I've experimented with at least a half-dozen ways to pry him out of his shell, but so far I haven't found a dynamic that works for me.
Then, this weekend, I ran across this article over on Making Light. It's about the myth of the True King (or Queen) - the king seen not as ruler, or defender, but as inspiration and catalyst. And that sparked some... interesting possibilities.

Because one of the big difficulties with Cat isn't just that he doesn't want to become a leader; it's that he really isn't any good at it. He's an outsider, an observer, a rogue; he's the guy who goes ahead to scout on his own, not the one who inspires people to follow him into battle. He's never going to be politically adept, and he's not much good at asking for help - even when he desperately needs it. But if I can have him leading almost by accident, if it's more his presence nudging people into doing new things than his (non-existent) bold leadership driving them forward, then Cat being who he is becomes a lot less of a problem for the story structure.

Friday, March 1, 2013

Never a Christian to begin with?

So... John Shore, a liberal Christian whose writing I usually admire, has expressed a belief that ex-Christians were never really Christians to begin with. (Here's the money quote: "As much ire as I know this will bring me [and it did: see below], my vote is that such a person was never really a Christian in the first place—by which I mean that their Christianity was always immature.")

Now, I can't really take this personally. I don't find it hurtful or insulting, at least not directly. In fact, I think a pretty good argument can be made that in my case it's even true. Still, I'm disappointed. I generally expect more empathy from John Shore. Why?

Because while it might arguably true of me, I'm very much an exception among the unbelievers I know. Most former Christians were faithful, devout, and absolutely sincere in their belief. Bruce Gerencser was a pastor for thirty-six years. If he wasn't a Christian, or if his Christianity was somehow "immature" - whatever that means - you'd think that somebody might have noticed. And, as Libby Anne pointed out, for someone whose Christianity was once a central piece of their life and self-image, such an accusation is deeply hurtful.

"You were never really a Christian" is one of those things that you should simply never say. Under what bizarre circumstances could that ever possibly be helpful or constructive? When did you suddenly acquire the mystical insight to judge whether or not someone's faith is valid? And if people can go around for years believing that they're saved when in truth they're still unsaved, what does that say about God?

Addendum: Mr. Shore has updated his post with the following:
[Update: I've shut down comments to this post because ... well, because how many times can I say that I didn't say what I'm being accused of having said?]
And, no. Just, no. That doesn't work. Because people are responding to what you did say. They may not be responding to what you meant, or how you meant what you said, but they are definitely and absolutely responding to what you said. How do I know? Because I'm reading what you wrote, and that is what it says.

Again, I'm disappointed.

Shawn Colvin covers Crazy

Not sure exactly why I have this song - and this particular version of this song - on my mind today.

Firstborn's February Journal

Journals are something that Firstborn is doing at school. (He's in first grade.) They're basically a set of pages where the kids write brief stories or thoughts, usually based on some sort of writing prompt, and then draw pictures to go along with them. When they're done, the journals go home so the parents can... appreciate them. I appreciated this one so much that I'm going to share it with the rest of you. With comments. For your general edification and personal improvement.

My February Journal

1. I like February because of zombies. Who doesn't?

2. The groundhog saw his shadow in the zombie dark. I don't know what zombie dark is, but I bet I'd go back down in my hole, too.

3. I love it when plants grow. Presumably because they help protect us from the zombies.

4. Happy 100 (little picture of a skull, superset) day of school. If Firstborn got to name this as a holiday, I rather imagine it would be Zombie Day.

5. If I had a monkey, he would be a zombie. Zombie monkey!

6. Today is our field trip. I hope I see trees and zombies. I'm good with trees, but if we're being honest I hope you don't see any zombies. Unless it's a field trip to the Zombie Zoo. That would be okay, if a little... Petty.

7. My favorite animal is a scorpion. (and a zombie) Yes, he actually used parentheses. Also, the drawing of the scorpion has the word "snap!" in the picture, next to one of the claws.

8. My valentine is cool and has a drawn gun on it and it looks daungeres! "Daungeres" is actually the word "dangerous". I think Firstborn is using the French spelling.

9. Yesterday I went to mousum. That would actually be a museum. Presumably there weren't any zombies.

10. This one is a jumble of numbers set up for addition. Like this:
25 50
+25 +50
+25 +50
+25 +50
___ ___
100 200
...Except that all the zeroes are skulls. At the bottom, it says:
Zombie Math
Apparently zombie math is different from regular math. Maybe you only carry the one if you plan to eat its brain later?

11. The rain was so hard that it broke zombie town. Not, you understand, that zombie town has much in the way of building codes.

12. I am good when I'm in school. Well... mostly...

13. On my weekend I went to GG. In addition to zombies, the boy has a deep appreciation of Genghis Grill. He's even put a circle around the double Gs, to imitate the logo.

14. I put on a magic ring and I turned into a Phonix! I'm really torn. On the one hand, where was I when he turned into a phoenix? And why did he bother to change back? On the other hand, I can't help thinking: "Hooked on Phonix worked for me!"

15. When I get hurt, I get help. I'm pleased to hear it. Really, really pleased to hear it.

16. When I see a phenix I see a Vexx. That's my boy: king of the obscure PS2 game references!

I'm frankly amazed I don't get calls from his teacher more often.