Tuesday, December 29, 2015

A Little Light Reading (Carrot Ranch Flash Fiction Challenge)

Kathryn Hepburn, Desk Set (via reel-librarians.com)
Spider Robinson taught us that "Librarians are the secret masters of the universe. They control information. Never piss one off.

I wouldn't dream of it. For me, and I suspect, for most dedicated readers, Robinson's Secret Masters are the root and core of our reading history.

I set out in this flash intro to explain why the topic of "spreading light" always inspires me to talk about librarians. I've known four that prodded me along my path, never letting me drop into easy, thoughtless reading habits. They challenged me with genres and authors who were then unknown to me, but who would become my friends and partners in life.

They really did have those old-fashioned names. Furthermore, all four were single when I knew them, though I have learned that Winston later married (at the ripe age of 58.) All four had tales to tell of their own introduction to the deeply magical world of books, with their own Secret Masters to be thanked in later life.

So I honor and memorialize my seminal librarians for the Carrot Ranch Flash Fiction Challenge this week:

December 16, 2015 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story about “spreading the light.” You can use it to honor or memorialize a loved one.

None of my Secret Masters are still in this world. Perhaps you can let yours know, before it is too late, what a difference they made in your life.


A Little Light Reading

They wear old-fashioned names: Hildegard, Charlotte, Winston, Arabella, and the light they spread is second-hand, but it is brilliant and up-to-date.

It pours in gentle beams from Sigrid Undset and Taylor Caldwell, or shines through harsh desert illuminations by Zane Grey and Tony Hillerman. Bob Shaw's light of Other Days shields us Against the Fall of Night. The undersea twilight of H.G Wells gleams for 20,000 Leagues. They gave me Light Music on the Dark Side of the Moon. I had All the Light We Cannot See.

I can always count on a librarian to bring me to the light.

Sunday, December 27, 2015

2015: My Most

Some surprising entries show up in my recap list this year: authors who provided a superlative disappointment or a transcendental joy, movies that thrilled unexpectedly (or unexpectedly fell flat), things that broke down or performed wonderfully, crowd-funded projects that swept me to triumph or left me asking "is that all there is?"

In no particular order, here for 2015 are my most:

Disappointing New Novel

Fish Tales by Sheri S. Tepper: Astounding as it may seem to those who follow this blog, Tepper makes my #1 negative rating this year. The book came out in 2014, but I didn't read it until early this year. My initial reaction was, it's just as well that Tepper is putting down her pen, if this is all that's left. Gone was the elegant language, the sense of story, and the brilliantly-compelling, though oddball, characters. If it had been anyone but Tepper, I would have put the book down long before halfway through, and never come back.

In second place is a culturally-inaccessible debut from Nina Nenova, The Capital of Latecomers, translated from Bulgarian, but not rendered in Western thought-modes. It reminded me of a former entry in a most-disappointing list, the 1990 movie Jacob's Ladder

Neal Stephenson might have made it to this bottom of the list award with Seveneves as well, except that I've had disappointments from Stephenson before that turned into "wow!" reactions upon re-reading. I'm willing to give it another go, but that'll be an assessment for another year.

Enticing Debut Novel

Then Comes a Wind by R.J. Stewart: I reviewed this novel after reading it for the second time; the first was as a beta reader. 

Among other things, I said of the novel: "If I had encountered Stewart's blizzard at the same age as I did [Laura Ingalls] Wilder's, I might not have been so fearful of one, principally because neither Will nor his women are frightened by the storm. Storms are just what happen on the prairie, and the Suttons' approach to life is to cope with what happens. There are darker turns to this story, though, that make it inappropriate for very young readers."

Close second to this is Novel Concept by Dan Fiorella. (While this is not his debut novel, he counts for the purposes of this list, because he is new to me as a writer, and I found the book on the Kindle Scout list.)

I reviewed it with a solid thumbs-up, recommending it for anyone who loves the humor and wit of Max Shulman, Christopher Moore, or Dave Barry.

Delicious Re-Read

To Say Nothing of the Dog by Connie Willis: I first read this novel in the 90s when it came out in paperback, after devouring The Doomsday Book by the same author a few years earlier. I reviewed it for Blogcritics in 2005 after a third re-read, and again recently after re-reading it on Kindle.

Each time, I have been rewarded with new insights. Most recently, it was the critical role played by computer modeling (and the poor decisions those models foster), which led the novel's main character Ned Henry to the realization that "that's the problem with models—they only include the details people think are relevant..."

As with Tepper, I have rarely run across a novel by Willis that I did not enjoy reading. If time-travel isn't your thing, try the delightful Bellwether, which asks (and answers) the question: Where do annoying trends and cultural memes come from?

Second place in this list is Neal Stephenson's brilliant Anathem, which I reviewed this year after re-reading the Kindle version.

Deflated Expectation on the Screen

Mockingjay Part 1: Maybe the disappointment was similar to having The Hobbit broken into a movie trilogy; the novel by Suzanne Collins was not that much longer than the first two in the trilogy, but by dint of expanding the action scenes and dialog, the film made a two-release meal of it.

One result of splitting the tale into two films was making an interim minor climax into a major cliffhanger, so that Part I could end on a teasing question. This reduced the impact of the character arcs that made Mockingjay (the novel) such a powerful read. Other, more trivial, problems introduced in the expansion paled before that disappointment.

Difficult to Choose the Best

I have a section of my movie collectiona fairly large shelf, in factreserved for sports movies starring Kevin Costner. 2015 saw two more titles added to that list: Draft Day and McFarland USA.

Draft Day was reviewed in this blog last May, when I said of it that Costner "makes us see the son devastated by the need to fire his own father, the child grieving for a hero-parent, the man uncertain how to respond to impending fatherhood in his own right, all while trying to deal with the intense pressure to perform brilliantly for his team." 

In July, I happened to catch McFarland USA, another Costner sports outing in which the actor represents a conflicted man in a situation that calls for leading a team to self-discovery, effort, and eventually, glory. This is his forte, and Costner shines again as a track coach leading a group of mostly-Latino runners to victory.

One of the best scenes in McFarland USA comes over the closing credits as runners from that first teamthe real guysset out for a training run with the real coach Jim White, with notes about their lives after their track victories. It is impressive how many of these boys who might have left school before graduation, instead went on to college. They then became servicemen, policemen, and managers of businesses.

And they still go on training runs with their coach.

Triumphant Crowd-Funding

My spouse and I got in early on one of the "most" Kickstarter projects of all time this year: Exploding Kittens. This crowd-funded game racked up an impressive list of superlatives in its 30 days as a project: Completely funded in the first 24 hours, it ended the month 10,000% funded, with the highest number of backers ever (over 200,000), and nearly $9 million in pledges. 

It became, first the most-backed game ever, then the most-backed project ever. Eventually, it would even spawn imitations on Kickstarter.

The company stretched, and stretched again, finally delivering us a game box with a magnet closure that meows when opened, with sufficient space for both the standard family-friendly game and a full NSFW deck. The first time we played it, we were delighted, and two other players in the game were inspired to buy their own decks!

Regift-Suitable Project Backed 

On the other hand, a truly "meh" result came from the Kickstarter project for Crop Circle Towels. This could have been an awe-inspiring product, but it fell a little short thanks to the skimpy dimensions of the Bath Sheet, the shallow pile, and the slightly less than color-fast nature of the green dye used on them. I am surprised the product made it to Amazon! 

Bath sheets are usually 35 inches by 60 inchesI notice the largest size Crop Circle towel is no longer labelled "bath sheet" on Amazon, though.

I hope my nephews like their Christmas presents!

Ready-for-the-Bin Hardware

Our sturdy portable 3D printer, the Bukito from Deezmaker, which gave us so much pleasure producing knick-knacks and trinkets at Chick-fil-A over the last 20 months, finally bit the dust this fall. 

Obsolete technologythings move so fast in an emerging art!and cumulative wear-and-tear made the prospect of repairing it more expensive than simply replacing it with something more up-to-date. We will probably look at a Delta printer, simply to be exploring a different mode of printing.

Life-Enriching Hardware

Our Kindle Paperwhites continue to perform beautifully, especially with auto-updates, and with Amazon Prime First freebies and Kindle Scout additions. My spouse got a new-version Paperwhite as a belated birthday present, and reports the 300-pixel screen is easier and more enjoyable to read. 

I count my Kindle as, not just this year's, but this decade's, most useful lifestyle change.

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Comedy of Manners and Time Travel

Review: To Say Nothing of the Dog by Connie Willis

Connie Willis has a unique twist on time travel: the "net" through which travelers access other times is self-correcting. Not only can one not travel to a time in which one has already lived, one cannot bring "through the net" anything that might cause an anachronistic incongruity. Crisis points are even more tightly controlled: no one can travel to Waterloo, for example, or get close to the grassy knoll. 

So when in To Say Nothing of the Dog, Ned Henry is dragooned by Lady Shrapnell into traveling back in time to research the "bishop's bird stump" at Coventry Cathedral just before it was destroyed in the Blitz, he is baffled by his inability to find it. Back and forth he goes, getting more and more time-lagged as he visits jumble sales ("maybe it was sold as a white elephant"), the bombed-out smoking remains of the cathedral ("That's a cat! I thought it would be the size of a wolf, somehow...") and the putative peace and quiet of the Victorian age. 

The last visit is necessary because somehow, a cat (extinct in 2067) has been brought forward through the net. Ned is volunteered to take it back, and somehow get Lady Shrapnell's great-great-great-grandmother to visit Coventry so that she will write about the bishop's bird stump in her diary, because, so Lady Shrapnell will be inspired to rebuild Coventry Cathedral and restore the bishop's bird stump to its rightful place in history and the hearts of Englishmen. 

Mr. Dunworthy and Finch, whom we met in The Doomsday Book, are back. They want to make sure the net stays open and history happens. Lady Shrapnell is determined to get the cathedral rebuilt on time, with the bishop's bird stump, despite the laws of physics—besides, "laws are made to be broken." Professor Peddick wants to defeat his rival Overforce with his ideas of a "Grand Design" that "shapes our ends, rough-hew them how we may." Verity Kindle wants to make sure the cat she rescued isn't drowned, "incongruity or not." Ned just wants to get a full night's sleep. 

What transpires out of this knot of competing ambitions is a wonderful comedy of manners, with modern perspective applied with liberal amounts of humor and allusion. History is used as a sustaining structure seen by the participants in the way we note limbs, leaves and stems on a tree: as a confusing mass dimly perceived in detail, and really understood only as a gestalt "tree." (Even while Lady Shrapnell reminds us that "God is in the details," we see clearly that using computer models to guide our choices is a poor strategy, because "that's the problem with models—they only include the details people think are relevant...".)

It is also an Agatha-Christie-style mystery whose deftly-handled clues span 700 years of history. At least. The wonder of Willis' writing is that the novel succeeds brilliantly on every level, and rewards re-reading with new insights each time.

I recommend it highly. 

Monday, December 14, 2015

Looking Around a Blind Curve (Carrot Ranch Flash Fiction Challenge)

As a student at Mines, I was pleased to learn that my new spouse shared a love of road trips into the mountains, especially as I did not have a driver's license then. We would rent or borrow a car, take off from campus, and enjoy the "Rocky Mountain's majesty" just a few minutes from the borders of Golden, Colorado.

One memorable incident (that made me very happy I was not behind the wheel) occurred as we drove a rented car to Frasier, Colorado, during the ski season. The road led through the Winter Park ski area, a popular destination for students in the Denver area. Winter Park's lifts were just down a snowy slope from the highway.

My spouse had years of experience driving in snow and on the mountain roads, and was a careful operator of any car, but especially in a rental. Even so, the packed, icy condition of the road was a challenge.

We would be indebted to the looky-loo behavior of a truck driver, driving toward us on the same road, who had more visibility of what lay ahead than we did, and who was willing and able to warn us. But it was my driver's split-second response to the situation, and driving skills, that saved us all.

I share it with you for the Carrot Ranch Flash Fiction Challenge this week:

December 9, 2015 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write about a looky-loo. It can be in the general term of “looking around” or it can be a nosy neighbor kind of tale. You can also go deeper into the prompt and have a looky-loo at another culture (or your own).

I've often wondered what the skiers' laundry looked like that night when they got home!


Looking Around a Blind Curve

The snowy curves of the Frasier road were packed slick.

Far ahead, a semi-truck blew his horn urgently, heading into the same blind hairpin we were approaching. "What's he honking about?" I asked. 

My savvy driver replied, "I'm not sure, but I think I'll slow down!"

Around the corner, some skiers skipping the tow fees were unloading from a car parked inside the curve. Our skid took us 360 degrees, halting on the steep road-edge. The semi barely missed us, passing with its horn still blaring.

The panicked skiers loaded back into their car and left without a word.

Saturday, December 5, 2015

(Yo) Ho Ho Ho (Carrot Ranch Flash Fiction Challenge)

You know when you drop a handful of change or a couple of bills in the red Salvation Army pot that the money is going to a legitimate charity. The donation box at your church is not likely to be a scam, either.

But it seems every business has a gift collection out for its customers to contribute during the holiday season, and not all of them are as well-intentioned as the Santa-capped bell-ringers on the street corner downtown.

While the spark for the Carrot Ranch Flash Fiction Challenge prompt this week may not have been tide of giving that surges each year in December, it ran into my own suspicions about a charity program I saw last week in a shop:

December 2, 2015 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a pirate story. It can be about pirates or piracy; modern or of yore. Swashbuckling, parrots and rum can be involved or maybe you’ll invent details beyond standard pirates.

Charity is an important civic virtue; you need not have a particular religious belief to see its value to your community or yourself. But the people who take advantage of our charitable urges are no less thieves than those who plied their trade on the high seas.


(Yo) Ho Ho Ho

The donations in his coffee-shop "Christmas Gift for Africa" box kept mounting. Each time Jeremy checked, the colorful poster behind it with its soulful photos of needy children had garnered more money.

So far, this particular holiday drive was doing better than the "Relief for Earthquake Victims" and "Kids With Cancer" combined. It seemed it would be a very merry Christmas indeed. For Jeremy.

Going with the theme, Jeremy ordered a rum-raisin muffin to go with his espresso, connected to the coffee-shop's WiFi, and prepared to spend his stolen gains online, where all the best pirates hang out nowadays.

Monday, November 30, 2015

Sit Finis Libri

Somewhere around 2:25 pm PST, I wrote the last word of the first draft of Roger and the Meteor Mass. My 2015 NaNovel came in at 93K+ words, but something didn't seem right.

You see, I assembled the draft from several working copies, including scenes I had written as working notes from my Kindle, flash-fiction pieces for Charli Mill's Carrot Ranch Flash Fiction Challenge, and chapter-by-chapter texts composed in WrittenKitten.

My novel was plotted and outlined before November 1st this year, and I calculated it would be complete at around 90K words, plus-or-minus 500. Definitely not plus 3000!

I took my validation text online to half-a-dozen different duplicate-text finders. Each found one or more duplicates where I had assembled parts into the mix more than once. After about a half-hour of editing, I resubmitted for validation, and the final total matched my expectation: 90,493 words.

Before I put my "manuscript" away on the thumb drive, here's a final excerpt from the initial scene-setting for the town of Meteor, featuring Roger's initial encounter with yet another Mass member:

    The window of the bookstore in downtown Meteor was Roger's first stop. He was surprised to see one of his favorite techno-thrillers featured in a stack of books labeled, "Great Summer Reading Selections." Maybe the stock inside wouldn't be as lame as he feared.
    He decided not to go in, though. He hadn't brought a bike lock, and despite the casual way they had left the car open earlier, he still wasn't sure it was safe to leave things unlocked in the new town. Instead, he walked along the shops, peering into the drugstore, and passing a sinister-looking metal door with a barred window at eye-level.
    He craned his head back to read the sign overhead: "Flater Beer & Eats" was wrapped around the picture of a foaming mug. A smaller sign on the door  had been amended with an extra "t" in the name: "Flatter Beer & Eats." The door seemed to be locked tight, and the windows on either side of it were opaque black squares mirroring the street behind him. 
    The next shop seemed to be a real estate office, based on the sun-bleached prints of property photos that covered the single window. An angled wall made a nook to shade the shop's glass door. Roger scanned the offerings on the inside of the glass. Here was a barn conversion touted as a "quaint family dwelling on large lot." In the corner was a tiny building, listed as "two bedroom, one bath, starter home." 
    Just above it, Roger saw a picture of the house they had just moved into. He read the description, curious to see how it was described. "Three bedrm, two and a half bath, full grg." Half-bath? Roger supposed that might be the guest bathroom next to his bedroom, even though it had a shower stall in it. Maybe they meant the second bathroom upstairs.
    The description continued: "Two story and cellar. Asking negot., see agent." So there was a cellar. Roger wondered where the entrance was. Maybe outside? The house they'd lived in when the Pierces were in Missouri had a storm-cellar with a door outside, but it had also had stairs that led down from inside the house. He resolved to check when he got home.
    He rolled on, ignoring shops offering infant clothing and picture frames, until he reached the end of the block. Past this point Meteor became residential again until the high school. Roger crossed carefully over the highway main street, and turned back toward the new house. 
    On this side of the road, a small movie theater anchored the block. On the far side was the cafe where they had eaten dinner the night before, but on the near corner was an intriguing shop called "Marv's Marvels." The windows were filled with video-game boxes. Roger recognized some of the games. Along the brick wall on the other side of the door was a bike rack of the kind Roger's Dad always called a "toaster rack." Peter Pierce had taught his son not to lock his bicycle to such flimsy structures, but to look for pipes, metal railings, and other substantial, solid substitutes.
    Marv's Marvels was apparently a popular place for the locals; three nice bikes were racked loose in the slots of the toaster, and one "beater" bike was locked to the curve of pipe at the end.
    As Roger tried to see inside the shop, a raucous crowd burst out through the door, pushing past him on the sidewalk to unrack their bikes. "Way to beat that high score, Darrell!" said one boy, slapping the largest kid on the back. "Yeah, Harb's the greatest!" shouted another. 
    The largest, Darrell Harb according to the praise-shouting crowd, lifted his bike out of the rack and whipped it around, knocking Roger's front wheel askew as he did so. "Watch it," he snarled at Roger. "Keep outta my way!"
    Two of the others backed their own bikes out of the rack, and the whole crowd crossed the highway, some riding, some walking or wheeling bikes. Roger watched them head toward the high school.
    He racked his own bike loosely, and opened the shop door to peek inside. He was unwilling to leave his ride untended, but hoped he could see enough from the doorway.
    A double bank of arcade games led away from the door, beeping and buzzing an invitation to drop quarters. All the way at the back of the space, Roger could see a glass counter with boxed product displayed in it. At the last machine, a young kid worked intently at the controls.
    The rail-thin clerk leaning across the counter was totally focused on this game, and said without looking away, "Come on in and close the door, kid! Yer lettin' in flies!" Roger closed the door, but stayed close, keeping his bike in the corner of his eye. 
    "Close! Oh, so close! Keep it up!" The clerk was encouraging the player. "You can beat that last score!"
    Without shifting his focus in the least, the boy said, "'Course I can. Harb is good, but I'm way better." With the last word, he beat out a quick series of moves, and was rewarded by a tinkle of sound from the game screen. 
    "High Score: 380,274" the clerk read triumphantly. "Did it, Mikey! You didn't even have to break a sweat!"
    "The day I can't do better than Darrell Harb, I'll eat my latest owl's nest." His tone was scornful. "But you better erase my score, or you'll never get any more of Harb's quarters."
    Roger thought the arcade showed promise, and the kid Mikey might be worthwhile to get to know, but he was still nervous about his unlocked bike, so he scooted back outside. If the size of Meteor was anything to go by, he'd meet up with Mikey again in the small town.

    On the other hand, Roger mused, that meant he'd be meeting the unpleasant Darrel Harb and his buddies again, too.

Word Count: 7538 Day 30 and 90493 Final Total  

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Pushing 30

I managed to "win" NaNoWriMo by the third week this year, but there is still more of the NaNovel waiting to be revealed. To me, as much as to the world! 

By dint of some really early mornings, a couple of midnight revels, and diligently following a plan to write Every. Single. Day. I have reached Day 29 having written not only 50,000 words and more, but also having met my daily goal of 2500 words or more. Just two more days, and then November is over.

According to the plot and outline, there are 10,000 words or so still to be written. By doubling my average output for the next two days, I may be able to actually finish the first draft of my NaNovel in November this year. 

I plan to do two more midnight sessions, in addition to my regular writing hours, effectively doubling up for tonight and tomorrow, the final day of the month. 

When the writing month is over, I will refocus on the Ken Cummings memoir, Meant to Be Here. Kenneth has been kind enough to wait while I produce my fourth NaNovel, but I know he's eager to get back to our collaboration.

Word Count: 2568 Day 29-First Session and 80955 Total  

Saturday, November 28, 2015

If You Know Nothing, Write About That

Review: Novel Concept by Dan Fiorella

Like so many New Yorkers, Max Federman has a book in him. The problem is he wants to write a hit, but the book his publisher wants is a non-starter for the best-seller list. 

Max reads those book lists; he knows what readers buy in droves. They want "rich-girl meets poor hunky guy and falls in love." They want "unknown beauty captures heart of royal heir." They want "daring spy assists voluptuous twins win revolutionary glory."

They want fantasy from a world Max has never dreamed of, let alone lived.

Rather than write the book he has thoroughly researched, the one his publisher desires, Max sets out to research the popular concept instead. Armed with the wit that Max Shulman used to give all his protagonists, Federman boards a cruise ship to Paris (persistently listed as "S.S. Gauche, bound for France" in the text), and proceeds to step into every social awkwardness a clueless stowaway can find.
Max lives in a section of NYC "inhabited by many aspiring creative types: writers, actors, musicians, performance artists, and, up until the tragic yet much appreciated Great Pantomime Massacre of ‘08, mimes."

He attracts the love of the "heiress to the French frogleg fortune," Candice LaPortune, who has chosen "an idyllic ocean cruise over the whirlwind body cavity search that was air travel." His shipboard romance novel is well underway until he is side-tracked by murder, and being tossed overboard into a crime novel.

Max barely gets into the drug syndicate mileau (in France, naturally, home of the "French Connection") before being pitch-forked into a psychic-prison-escape scenario in Turkey, from which he is railroaded into revolutionary intrigue in the near-kingdom of Lacertosa. You know, where Lucky Lindy landed before realizing it wasn't France.

My favorite comic novel of all time is Barefoot Boy with Cheek by Max Shulman. What Shulman did for college life, Fiorella has done for the popular concept novel. 

Novel Concept lies for me in the field of second-place ties for comic best, after Shulman's classic, alongside any adult novel by Christopher Moore or Dave Barry. And Fiorella may be edging Moore and Barry slightly.

Liner Notes

  • Fiorella has a habit of using the suffix "-esque"complete with hyphenwhich would be fine if only it were spelled correctly. (He consistently renders it "-sque." I gritted my teeth so hard, I popped out a filling!)
  • On the other hand, he references Danny Thomas, Charles Lindbergh, and Charlie Callas, admonishing the reader to "Google them" if confused.
  • A sneaky collection of linked footnotes includes its own joke.
  • I loved the ending, but it only works if you come to it naturally. Don't spoil it for yourself! (I certainly won't.)

Friday, November 27, 2015

Filling in the Holes

At this end of November, the NaNovel is looking less like a net and more like a solid fabric with a few runs and holes in it now.

Before the groaning-board was fully set for the feast yesterday, I brought out this bottle we bought at a combination gas station, convenience-and-liquor store, and camping-gear outlet on our way to the Clown Motel in Tonopah, Nevada  last month.

In case you cannot read it, the label calls this a "pie-oneering whiskey" made by blending Canadian Whiskey and Pecan Pie Syrup. Ever poured whiskey over a slice of pecan pie? Me neither, but if you did, I expect it would taste like this. 

Meanwhile, my nearly 74K words looks like this, where solid lines are written portions of the draft, and dots are plotted, but not yet written:

I expect the end of November will see the holes on either side of the "hinge" filled in, and filling the larger gap leading up to the climax will take a little bite out of December. 

The experience of writing a plotted novel has been mixed, but mostly good. I will probably move to more plotting for future novels, rather than less. 

For now, with a handful of days left to the experience of NaNoWriMo 2015, I will build a turkey sandwich, pour a glass of iced tea and dope it with Piehole whiskey, and get busy filling in the various holes.

Finally, I have to share the real reason I bought this bottle of weird potability. That slice of pie on the back label is the UPC (bar) code. How clever is that?

Word Count: 3923 Day 26 and 73832 Total

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Pas Jeté (Carrot Ranch Flash Fiction Challenge)

About one-quarter of the way through the plotted storyline for Roger and the Meteor Mass, I had jotted a note that I would need a new character to join the Meteor High School outsider-group, one who would not be a member of the extended Mass family. 

I tiptoed around the beginning of his or her advent three times, each time abandoning it half-complete. It didn't stop me; I would simply go past it to write the later parts of the story. Plotting makes that possible, but my preference to write a story from the beginning through the middle to the end made it uncomfortable.

Meanwhile, the Carrot Ranch Flash Fiction Challenge prompt for this week had me dodging and twisting, trying to come up with a dance scene to add to my NaNovel (when I really hadn't planned to include one):

November 18, 2015 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write dance into your story. Twirl your characters round and round or stomp your plot onto the page. Use dance in any way that comes to mind. Be specific or free, tango or disco.

In the back of my head, the genie who actually writes my stuff finally came through with a solution for both dilemmas. The paired solution could then be massaged to meet the challenge of Charli Mill's prompt.

Meet Kirby Dean, whose Meteor-alien nature comes by way of early schooling in Europe and a preference for the kind of football Americans call "soccer." He has a deep secret that could spell social doom when the Meteor bully, Darrell Harb, discovers it and decides to reveal it to the whole school. 

His secret? He's been dancing ballet from the time he was seven years old. But Kirby has a secret weapon to go with this social stigma, and he's not afraid to unleash it.


Pas Jeté

From the stands, Roger and the girls could only watch as Harb's bully-buddies dragged Kirby onto the field. "C'mon, 'ballerina'!" Harb shouted, "show us how a soccer fairy kicks a REAL football."

They kept him off-balance until the group jerked to a halt behind the ball on its stand. 

Kirby nodded sharply, committing himself. With an elegant sweep of his leg, he tripped Harb, calling "Rond de jambe!"  Then, "Couru, Jeté!" with three quick-run steps, he loosed a powerful kick that lifted his foot above his head, sending the ball flying.

Giving a triumphant ref's sign, he screamed, "GO-O-O-AL!"

Monday, November 23, 2015

Framing the Shot

Review: Decisive Moment by Eduardo Suastegui

Thus far, Suastegui's Our Cyber World series seems to divide into two sub-series: hacker-photographers and sniper-photographers. I've been enjoying the heck out of both sub-series, in large part because the paradigm of photography, framing the shot and capturing the moment, is used to good effect in setting the scenes and telling the story.

This episode brings several sharpshooter-turned-snapshotters together in a single story, with solid links to the quick eye and snap judgement that both tasks require.

Suastegui's women are of a similarly consistent kind to his heroes (in this series, at least.) They are all slightly amoral, hot, and intelligent, and are willing to be deeply involved in whatever action the guys are getting into. I really appreciate that, especially when it is obvious that the men are strongly inclined to be protective, and find it hard to accept that the gals are just as happy to pull some triggers.

I liked the protagonist of Decisive Moment, Roger Morris, much better than his brother (who doesn't deserve the help Roger keeps giving him), but not as much as Andre Esperanza, the other sniper-photographer from two previous novels, Pink Ballerina and Active Shooter. A third sniper character, Jesse, doesn't appear to have any pretension to fine art photographybut there's always a sequel!

I was able to read and enjoy this novel out of sequence again, which is one of Suastegui's strengths. Each novel stands on its own, braced in a shooting position, and ready for the decisive moment. Whether film or bullet, he always scores, so far at any rate.  

Monday, November 16, 2015

Hinged in the Middle

The "hinge" is one label for that moment on a story's arc represented by the hyphen in 'problem-solution'. Until the hinge is reached, the action is all building conflict, after it the action is discovering and applying the solution.

Sometimes the hinge and the "mirror moment" described by James Scott Bell in Write Your Novel from the Middle are the same. 

Bell writes that the "mirror moment" is usually smack in the middle of the book, and sometimes involves an actual mirror. In this scene, the protagonist confronts his own nature, and solidifies his own sense of his identity. This perceptive insight frees the protagonist to pass the hinge. 

Self-discovery may help the character decide to apply a solution he has discovered. It may lead him to search for a different answer to his problem. It might even provide a complete turn-around to the story, as he replaces the first problem identified with a completely different conflict.

This is why Bell recommends that writing the mirror/middle scene can make writing the rest of the novel easier.

For the past week, I have been reading for the first time the quintet of novels by Orson Scott Card that begins with Ender's Game. In that first novel, I was amazed to find an obvious mirror scene, in the exact middle of the novel. Eight-year-old Ender Wiggin has been training in an intently-focused way to command starships in the battle against the distant enemy alien Buggers, when they attack again.

In his free time, Ender and all the other boys he is competing against play the Fantasy Game, This video game is supposed to end with a scenario called the Giant's Drink, an unwinnable contest which measures the boys' willingness to keep trying. (In that, this is like Star Trek's Kobayashi Maru simulation, which James T. Kirk notoriously cheats his way through at Starfleet Academy.)

Ender surprises the designers of the Fantasy Game, who are observing, when he finds a way to win against the Giant, and the game immediately takes him to another hard-to-win scenario that involves a mirror. What he sees in the mirror is not himself, but his older brother Peter, and this informs not only the rest of Ender's Game, but also has repercussions through at least the next three novels as well.

In plotting Roger and the Meteor Mass, I have planned three different hinges. One is a mirror moment, in which the mirror is Roger's perception of himself through the eyes of his mother as they both watch his baby sister pretend to be a cat. While it is not written word-for-word, I have "watched" this scene in my mind's eye many rimes now, and have figured out what insight it gives Roger about his oddness.

The fact that I am past the "half-way" mark in word count, but still haven't reached this moment in my novel, tells me that this book (at least in its first draft) will be longer than 50,000 words.

(Written November 12, but not posted until November 16, 2015.)
Word Count: 2477 Day 11 and 26912 Total

Cast Out of Eden (Carrot Ranch Flash Fiction Challenge)

Comfort means different things to different people in the real world, and it should mean different things to different fictional characters, too.

For Roger Pierce, my protagonist in Roger and the Meteor Mass, nothing is so much a comfort and refuge as a challenging book, with a quiet place to read it. 

Roger is the kind of reader who devoured Dumas in second grade, fell in love with Heinlein and Blish in third grade, and discovered algebra by reading his father's college textbooks when his classmates were struggling with long division and fractions. 

Roger's book-centric comfort zone informs my piece for the Carrot Ranch Flash Fiction Challenge this week:

November 11, 2015 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write about a place of comfort that is a refuge. Have fun with it, like a pillow fight between best friends at a slumber party or newlyweds in search of the perfect mattress. Or you can go dark and write about unusual comforts, like a bad habit or a padded cell. Play with the idea of comfort and refuge.

The flash will go into my NaNovel as a description, a snapshot of why Roger is the "stranger child." 

I have written before about why Roger is such a familiar persona for me. He is based in some part on what I have learned in helping Kenneth Cummings write his memoirs. This fictional flash is rolled together from two incidents in Cummings' real history. In one, he was actually barred from reading in the library during recess at his grade school. The other comes from a separate conversation with a high school counselor about what constituted his "peer group."

Word Count: 1952 Day 16 and 35059 Total


Cast Out of Eden

Roger was accustomed to sparse selections in school libraries, where "Wind in the Willows" and "Onion John" were considered challenging reads.

In Meteor, donated college textbooks and novels, plus a set of "Great Books of the Western World," filled one whole stack. They could be read in-library, but never checked out. For a month, he was in paradise, reading during every free period.

One day as he lunched with Newton's Principia Mathematica, he was rousted by the principal. "You should spend your time socializing with your peers!"

"But I was!" His protests ignored, he was barred from the library.