Friday, March 30, 2007

Advice from the Slush Pile

For any writers that may make it to this page, I offer this link. It's advice from a writer and what he learned from combing through the slush pile for a magazine. Some excellent advice is included.

'Common sense is the knack of seeing things as they are, and doing things as they ought to be done.' Harriet Beecher Stowe

Thursday, March 29, 2007

World of Null-A

I just read the World of Null-A by A. E. Van Vogt. The book, published in 1948, is Van Vogt's attempt to integrate the philosophy of Alfred Korzybski into science fiction. Korzybski developed General Semantics as a response to the flaws he perceived in Aristotelian logic, the logic most people use without knowing anything about it.

The World of Null-A works as an entertaining science fiction book, but fails as an endorsement of General Semantics. The reason for this seems simple, a book of fiction cannot preach too much or it risks alienating its audience. The book works better in today's world because of the easy access to information. Hopefully, this book will stimulate those who read it to seek out more information on General Semantics. I'm not attempting to conver anyone, but broadening one's horizons is never a bad thing.

The book is well written, but a little campy at times, no surpise given the publication date. The ideas in it our stimulating and fit well with the story, which moves quickly. I won't tell you too much, no spoilers here, but I suggest all fans of Science Fiction should give this book a chance.

For a better understanding of General Semantics, you can attempt the humongous book that is Korzybski's 'Science and Sanity', or you can check out the very accessible 'Quantum Psychology' by Robert Anton Wilson.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

His Dark Materials

This looks flat out awesome, the trailer for Philip Pullmans' the Golden Compass, which is book I of the His Dark Materials trilogy.

If you haven't read these books then I highly recommend them.

Friday, March 16, 2007

Predicting the Future

Of all the science fiction movies, or any movies, that predicte the future, which one came closest?

I know the answer, but I'm loathe to tell you.

'The Running Man'

Don't believe me? Watch the reality contest shows, then change the channel and watch ultimate fighting, then switch to 'Cops'.

Reading Ability

I don't read the same way I did as a younger man. When I was a teenager and twentysomething, I could sit for hours reading. The books would so transport me that I ignored people talking to me. The world the books represented felt real, and often I longed to join them.

Now, at the ripe old age of 36, I read more clinically. I can read for 45 minutes to an hour at a time, no more. My attention is less on the story and the world, because a part of it keeps an eye on what's going on around me. I just noticed this difference the other day.

I have two kids and a wife, and think this is part of my change. Anyone else experienced anything like this?

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

For Visitors from Miss Snark

(This is the beginning of a children's book I wrote. If you want to read more, 12 of 13 chapters are posted at


The demon stood above Nick. Looking down he smirked at the young man.

"You thought you could control me? You fool. Did you learn nothing from your teachers?"

Nick picked himself up off the ground and planted his feet. He made a point of dusting off his clothes before addressing the demon.

"I can control you. You are mine to control. It is you who have learned nothing. Your power has made you proud and arrogant. You learned nothing during your banishment. Pride leads to the fall, always."

Mestaphor threw his head back and laughed. His burned and blackened features playing hideously in the light of flickering flame that always surrounded him.

"You are brave Nicholas. I grant you that, but now I must destroy you. My freedom stands near."

"No." Nick said. "Now you will do as I say or you will be banished back to the nether world from which you were summoned."

Chapter 1

Nicholas scratched at his wrist. He did this when he became nervous, and he was nervous. Just last week he enjoyed the life of a normal twelve-year-old boy, but now he faced an uncertain future.

These thoughts crossed his mind as he, and his parents, stood outside of a monstrous and brooding old house. The building sat shaded by trees, and Nicholas could see a large porch that protruded from the front of the house. To his left branching off of the house was a large pavilion with tables scattered under the shade. On top of this pavilion, he could discern what looked like a balcony extending from the second floor. Above the second floor rose another floor, and above that an arched roof reaching up into the foliage of the ancient trees that shrouded the property.

Nothing made any sense. What was this place? Why was he here? Why was his mother crying?

"Mom," he asked, "what is going on? I'm scared."

His mother looked at him and her body convulsed as she continued to cry. His father gave the mother a hug and then knelt down to speak with the boy.

"Son," he said. His father looked away for a moment before returning his gaze to his son. His son's deep brown eyes looked at him, pleading for answers. "Son, there are some things in life that cannot be explained. These things must be learned. This is one of those things, and in time you will understand why."


"Nick, your mother and I love you very much. We would do anything for you, and that is why you are here." His father stopped speaking and stood. Someone had come out of the house and was walking down the front walk to greet them.

Nicholas watched this unknown woman approach. She seemed pretty, but in a severe way. A raven black headband pulled her equally black hair away from her face and forehead. She wore a red dress cinched at the waist with a black belt that matched her hair. Black high heels clicked on the concrete and completed the black-red-black theme. As she reached them, she bowed slightly.

"Mr. and Mrs. Darkstrom?" She asked. His father nodded. She bent down and looked at Nicholas. "And you must be Nicholas." He nodded weakly. She rose again. I am Mrs. Hornby. Do you two have any questions?"

Mrs. Darkstrom shook her head.

"No, all our questions were answered when your husband and the headmaster visited our home," Mr. Darkstrom said.

"Good," she answered.

"I have some questions," Nicholas said. His heart had sunk to his stomach, but he wanted answers.

She looked at him and smiled. "I'm sure you do Nicholas, and they will all be answered in time." She looked at the parents. "This is always hard. I will give you a few minutes." Nicholas watched as Mrs. Hornby strode a few paces toward the house and stopped.

"I love you Nick," his mom said. She then engulfed him in a hug before turning and walking swiftly toward the car.

His father knelt again. "Nick, everything is going to be alright. You'll understand before too long. I love you, and we will see you soon." He hugged Nick and then gave him a little push toward Mrs. Hornby.

Nick did not immediately go to the strange woman, but he watched as his father walked to the car. He could not be sure, but he thought his father was crying.

"Nicholas." He heard her voice calling from the direction of the house. "Nicholas, come with me. Everything will be alright."

Reluctantly, he turned and faced this woman, and this new place.

The two of them walked onto the porch and up to the large front door. As they approached the door swung open. Nick stood just inside the door as his eyes adjusted to the dim light. He could see tables and chairs spread throughout the room. Each table was set with silverware, napkins, and glasses. It looked like a restaurant.

"What is this place?" He asked.

She smiled at him. "You will know soon enough. Come on, let's go meet the other boys."

She led him into a hall to the left of the dining room. Along the hall he noticed smaller rooms also filled with tables. At the end of the hall, they arrived at a steep staircase. Up the stairs she led him. The passed a door to the second floor, which revealed only a wide hallway with doors on either side. They continued up to the third floor. As they neared the top of the stairs Nick could hear voices. The voices quickly died as they came to a door at the top of the stairs. Mrs. Hornby opened the door.

Inside Nick saw about six boys. All of them seemed the same age as him. They were gathered at a table that sat in the middle of the room, around the room he could see bunk beds, and on the beds he saw suitcases much like the one he carried.

"Boys, this is Nicholas." She herded him into the room with the other boys. "I'm sure you young men have a lot to talk about. Make yourself at home Nicholas, and I will come get all of you later for dinner." She left the room and closed the door behind her.

Nick stood there in an awkward silence.

One of the boys, a plump fellow somewhat shorter than Nick, spoke first. "You have any idea why you are here?"

Nick shook his head. "No."

"Well, join the club."

Nick walked over to the table. "I'm Nick," he said.

The short plump fellow said, "I'm Roger."

"Steven," said one blonde headed boy as he offered his hand to Nick.

In quick succession all the boys introduced themselves. Along with Roger and Steven there was Sebastian, Sherman, Trey, and Geoffrey. Geoffrey seemed the least friendly. He offered his slender hand with a limpness that rankled Nick.

"So none of you know why we are here?" Nick asked.

"Nope," answered Roger. He seemed to have taken on the role as spokesmen for the group. "Tell us your story and we'll see if it helps with the mystery."

Nick took off his jacket and sat down. "Well, I don't know much. Life was going along pretty normal. One night these two fellows came by the house and spoke with my parents. I couldn't hear much, but from the way they talked it sounded as if they had sent my parents several letters, and my parents seemed to be expecting them. I tried to listen as much as I could, but they were real secretive. From what I could gather they were discussing what to do with me. My mom seemed very upset, and Dad was angry. I didn't get much more."

Roger rubbed his chin in a motion that reminded Nick of an adult. "Yep, that sounds like the story."

"Do you have any other ideas?" Nick asked.

"Well," Roger said, "we've been able to piece together that this place is some type of school for boys. Why we were chosen, or our parents chose to send us here we don't know. All the adults have been real secretive about the whole situation."

"Have you guys looked around this place?" Nick asked.

"Just what we saw as they brought us up here. Looks like some kind of restaurant downstairs. We tried to look around, but the door is locked." Roger motioned his head towards the door. "We haven't seen anybody either except for that Mrs. Hornby that brought us all up here."

"I wonder if we are the only ones here?" Nick asked, but no one had an answer.

They spent several hours closeted in what appeared to be their new home. None of them had any idea how long they would be here or what they were going to do here. They knew the evening had come because they could see the daylight fade through the window on the far wall. Outside the window all they could see was a field and trees in the distance. Eventually it became too dark to see even the limbs hanging near the window. There were lamps in the room, and they turned these on.

Finally, they heard steps coming towards the door. The doorknob twisted and Mrs. Hornby opened the door.

"Good evening Gentlemen," she said. "I don't suppose any of you are hungry."

"Yes ma'am we are hungry," Roger answered.

The others nodded their agreement.

"Well then, follow me." Instead of down the stairs she led them down the hall. The doors on either side of the hall were closed. At the far end of the hall was another stairwell matching the one near their room. She led them down these stairs. They came to a door that led into the dining room they had all passed on their way in. Nick studied everything, looking for some clue to help him unravel the mystery of his new circumstances.

Sitting at the tables were other boys their age. Nick guessed there were thirty boys or so seated around the room. Adults occupied several tables near the front of the room. Most of the adults were men, but a few women were present.

Mrs. Hornby motioned for them, and she led them to two empty tables.

"You boys sit here," she said. Then she nodded her head at the tables where the adults were sitting.

On her cue a dour looking man in a pressed brown suit and bow tie stood. He raised his glass and tapped it with his spoon.

"Good evening everyone. My name is Timothy Gladship, and I am the headmaster of St. James academy for boys."

This caused a stir as the boys at all the tables began murmuring.

"Yes," Mr. Gladship continued, "this is a school. A boarding school for young men with special talents."

Again the room erupted with murmurs. Mrs. Hornby hissed and they quieted down.

Mr. Gladship nodded at her and then began again.

"I realize that most of you have no idea what you are doing here. I will explain what I can. St. James is an academy for young men with special talents, as I said. Now, most of you have no idea what this talent is, but I promise you it exists. In time you will realize the extent of this talent, and you will understand why you are here. As for how you specifically came to be here I will attempt to explain. We," he motioned at the other adults, "have searched all over the country in an effort to find each one of you. There exist certain signs that helped guide our search. Once we found each of you we then contacted your parents and began recruiting you to our little school."

He took a sip of his water before continuing.

"Much more about why you specifically are here I cannot say, but you will be aware in time. Regardless, you are here now. While you are here you will continue your schooling under our excellent staff." He waved his hand again at the adults present. "The staff will direct your studies of English, Science, and Math. They will also direct your studies in other fields." The boys all looked at one another. Mr. Gladship paused and looked around the room, a serious expression on his face.

"Now, I must tell you that your special talents can be dangerous and difficult to deal with. That is why you are here, and that is why the school must operate with a certain amount of secrecy. For this reason the existence of this school and its true purpose is not general knowledge to the public." This caused more murmurs once again hushed by Mrs. Hornby. "To the public at large we operate a school for troubled young men, and these young men, you, work in the St. James restaurant, the restaurant in which you now sit. The restaurant helps fund our programs and provides some misdirection while we pursue our primary goal.

"At St. James there are several rules you must know. First, each of you will work in the restaurant." Then he smiled, "we find that a little hard work helps our students build character." A light chuckling came from the adults in the audience. Mr. Gladship then became serious again. "Second, you are never to leave the grounds without an escort, and finally you are never to discuss the true nature of our school with any of the patrons of the restaurant, or any other outsider. Any questions?"

Questions abounded in the minds of the boys, but none would dare ask.

"Good. Other than those rules I've outlined St. James follows the same rules as any other boarding school. During dinner I will come around and meet each of you in turn. Now, on with dinner."

Mr. Gladship clapped his hands. Waitresses entered from several doors and began serving food and drinks.

After the waitresses brought the drinks Roger leaned toward the middle of the table.

"Well, that clears things up wouldn't you say."

"Oh definitely," said Sherman. "It all makes sense now. I see why my parents brought me five hundred miles from home. They want me to learn to bus tables."

Everyone laughed, but it was a nervous laugh.

"Any of you know of any special talents, dangerous or otherwise?" Roger asked.

They all shook their heads from side to side.

"Me neither. I think this whole thing is hinky."

Nicholas looked at Roger. "Henky?"

"Yeah, hinky. You know, not quite right."


They looked up to see Mr. Gladship standing above them.

"How are you boys doing?" He asked.

"Peachy," answered Roger.

Mr. Gladship nodded knowingly at the sarcasm. "Yes, I can understand your confusion, but"

"We will eventually understand why we are here," Roger finished.

Mr. Gladship looked at him and Roger seemed to sink in his chair.

"Listen boys I know this is hard. I have been here for twenty years and every new class faces the same questions and problems. Let me reassure you that you need to be here. You are here because your parents love you and want only the best for you. Your parents trust us with you and we want you to trust us as well. Your future depends on it." He paused to let his words sink in.

"Now enjoy your meal. When you are done Mrs. Hornby will come by and take you back to your room. Sleep well tonight because tomorrow work and school begin in earnest."

Mr. Gladship then made his way to the next table of boys.

"Hmph," was all Roger could manage.

Confused and scared the boys finished their meal in silence.

Nicholas lay in bed that night staring at the ceiling. He had chosen the bottom bunk nearest the window so he could look out at the stars, but tonight clouds filled the sky. In the darkness he could hear the other boys breathing. A feeling of dread crept over him. He closed his eyes, curled into a ball, and tried to ignore the questions running through his mind.

Monday, March 12, 2007

Writing Advice

The best writing advice I've ever heard actually comes from the world of golf and you can find it in the Little Red Book by Harvey Pennick. Here is this piece of advice,

If someone tells you to take an aspirin. You don't take the whole bottle.

I think the meaning of this is clear, but it is especially relevant to writers, so I'll explain it for you. If you read a piece of writing advice, use it in moderation. For example, you read some advice that says you should limit your descriptions because they bore the readers. Fine, limit your descriptions, but don't abandon them. Otherwise, you'll find yourself writing stories set in bland environments that lack atmosphere. This is just one example, but there are hundreds of pieces of writing advice that if taken to the extreme can do much more harm than good. Also, once you head down this path of heeding a certain piece of advice, then reclaiming what you've lost is very difficult.

Agree? Disagree? Anybody out there?

Didn't think so.

Sunday, March 4, 2007

Literature Map

This is one of my most frequented web sites, at the moment. Type in the name of any author and you get a map of other authors with similar books. They don't have every author in their database, but it is pretty good. I've found this to be an excellent way to discover writers I otherwise didn't or wouldn't know about.

If there are any wannabe writers out there (or if anyone is out there) then I suggest you check out the Evil Editor. People send him their query letters and synopsis (how do you make that plural?), and he proceeds to rip them a new one, in a constructive and comical way. This blog is somewhat similar, but not really, to that of Miss Snark, an anonymous agent doling out the query wisdom (with the help of her dog Killer Yapp.)