Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Happy New Year!

No new post today.  I just wanted to wish everyone a happy new year.  May you find blessing in 2014.
(A new year dawns!)

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Here Today...Gone Tomorrow?

(How long will they be useful?)
I got the gift cards above for Christmas.  I love Barnes & Noble and have been known to spend all day in one.  In fact, I'm such a dork about books that if it wasn't for wanting to spend time with my family, I'd probably spend every Saturday in one and go home only to sleep(only because Barnes & Noble frowns on that practice in their stores).  I used to also do that with Borders, but they aren't around anymore.

It was my reflecting on the Borders debacle that I started wondering about this awesome and dorkish hobby of mine.  It's been no secret that brick and mortar bookstores are in trouble.  They roared into being about 25 or so years ago, and, for a while, they ruled the market.  They grew so dominant that they were castigated by many for putting the mom and pop bookstore industry on the ropes.

Well, Barnes & Noble is in trouble itself.  It has been swamped by Amazon, and it doesn't seem to know how to stem the flow of blood.  There's an emerging consensus that Barnes & Noble will be gone in a few years as Amazon pushes it out of the way.  I just wonder if that's a good thing.

Don't get me wrong - from a purely business point of view, I think Amazon is doing a great job.  It knows how to innovate and push authors many in the brick and mortar business aren't even aware of.  Barnes & Noble, like Borders before it, has no clue how to adapt to the times, relying instead on the same business model that worked for it for a long time, all while still failing to account for how the bookselling business has changed.

However, there's just something about being able to browse a large bookstore.  Looking around on Amazon just isn't the same.  I like picking up books and flipping through them, and I've bought many tomes this way.  I'm afraid that if trends continue, this method will become obsolete, and I worry what it'll do to my book-buying prowess.

Selfishly, I want Barnes & Noble to stick around.  I worry, though, that their own stubbornness will kill them.  I guess I should use my gift cards as soon as I can, lest they have no value soon.

Thursday, December 26, 2013

A Heavenly Christmas

Miloi put his hand on his young son's shoulder.  The boy gazed out of the viewport at the planet as their ship ascended.

"It can be a magnificent place, Father," Shandriel said.

"Yes, my son.  It can.  Beautiful, vivacious, dangerous.  But all in all, magnificent."

Earth began to grow smaller as the Jidian ship rose.  A brown land mass dominated the center of their vision, but a planet with so much water couldn't avoid a tinge of blue at the edges.  Once the pilots got them to about four orbital lengths past the small planet's moon, blue, along with white wisps of the clouds, would be all they'd be able to see.

Shandriel turned his narrow head towards his father, red and yellow eyes focused on the ridges of Miloi's face.  The boy's robe shimmered in the starlight, but it was his eyes that held the greatest wonder.

"Father, I do not understand these humans."

Miloi had to exert effort not to snort at such an understatement.  Scientists had been studying this species for several centuries without understanding them.  Entire careers were spent on this enigmatic race.  However, that was a matter for another time, a time in which his son was older and further along in his education.

"In what way do you not understand them?"

"They appear a passionate people, yet they can be incredibly cold to each other.  They seem to seek love above all other things, yet their capacity for violence is beyond measure."

Miloi's cranial ridges waved as he took pleasure in his son's curiosity.  "You are asking questions scholars have since we first discovered this people."

As if he didn't hear his father Shandriel continued, "Take this season of 'Christmas,' for example.  Many who celebrate it claim it is about peace and goodwill, yet they argue over how to celebrate or even express it.  A group will bless each other with their 'Merry Christmas' saying, and then they'll show anger towards another group who looks at it differently, even if that group ostensibly shares the same basic spiritual values."

"Heady talk, my son," Miloi replied.  The ship was now at the orbit of the moon and gaining speed.  "Along with several other festivals, it's this time on their calendar that intrigues us most of all.  The spirit of the season shows the mark of maturity and grace, but they appear unable to hold it even for the day, let alone extend the feeling across the whole year."

"Have we ever thought of pointing this out to them?  Perhaps they need but the realization."

"Some have tried, but the attempts have been half-hearted.  The humans of old did not understand who or what we and the other races were when we contacted them.  Names such as angels, demons, and monsters have been used towards us.  The fear some have been met with has discouraged other attempts."

"But they appear more developed now," Shandriel argued.  "We could try again - their growth in reason should allow them to know us for what we are.  We can help them channel their passion and kindness away from violence and towards greater empathy."

"But that would retard their growth as a species, and it could be dangerous as well."  When Shandriel's eyes blinked, a gesture of confusion, Miloi continued, "They are not far enough along to properly focus their passion as a people, although they are getting better.  We have sometimes appealed to gifted individuals, while others rose to prominence on their own.  These individuals, whether influenced by us and others or not, have given rise to their great philosophies.  However, it hasn't occurred in a vacuum.  These people have made an appearance only when the people around them have been ready.

"Mankind's potential for growth is enormous, but so is it's potential for violence.  If they grow too quickly, their passion might be turned against us, and we would be forced to annihilate this world to protect ourselves.  Think then of the loss in the Universe.  What they can show us once they reach maturity might be titanic, but if unleashed too soon, it could be catastrophic."

"What makes us think such a paradoxical world can ever show us anything?" Shandriel asked.

"Their race is young, as the stains of violence and greed upon it mark it so.  However, they show great promise, as with this Christmas business.  Once you peel back the layers, the well wishes and peace it can generate once they get past the pettiness is profound.  If they can channel their energy into such compassionate and peaceful endeavors, they could be of great benefit to the whole of creation."

"If they don't destroy each other first."  Shandriel's gaze returned to the viewport and a planet that was now little more than a blue ball of haze against the rest of the stars.

"A tragic but potential outcome, my son.  If they can find a way to extend the spirit of this season past but one day of their year, there's hope.  Let's pray they do, for it would be a shame to see a race of such vast potential fade from us because they couldn't get past their own nature.  Or perhaps it is the other side of that nature that draws us so.  Either way, the future of it is undetermined as of now, and it will likely remain so for the foreseeable future."

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Merry Christmas!

No post today due to the holidays.  I just wanted to wish all of you a very merry Christmas.  May the blessings of the season be with you and your loved ones.
(Seasons Greetings!)

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Starting Year #3

Just two short years ago, I began this tiny little blog.  Over the last 24 months, I've learned a great deal, most of it about where I still have to go.  It's been a great experience, and I plan to continue it for as long as I'm able to type.

Here are a few lessons learned:
1.  Controversial posts may spark page views, but that doesn't necessarily translate into comments.  I've written a number of posts that one could deem controversial.  From the burgeoning indie movement to literary agents who have a "do as I say and not as I do" motif, this blog has always tried to take on the sacred cows of publishing.  Much to my chagrin, however, some of these posts haven't sparked the discussion I'd hoped they would.  Most of them draw in lots of page views, but either I'm not asking the right questions, or folks are a bit hesitant to engage.  This is something I still need to figure out.

2.  The posts that draw the most views are the ones you least expect.  Yes, I've mentioned my novel Salvation Day a number of times, but when I looked back at the individual hits, I was blown away at how many views it has gotten.  That post is far and away the most viewed.  Looking back on it, maybe that shouldn't surprise me; after all, most of those who come to this site are likely other writers, as well as those who like to read, so descriptions of what I've written probably should garner the most interest.

3.  Opportunities to grow as a writer are always presenting themselves.  One of my favorite series on this blog are those about my Muse.  It began as a lark and has grown into one of my favorite features.  I use the technique to demonstrate not only my ideas on what constitutes a way to accomplish some writing feat(from dialogue to trying to properly set a mood), but also to explore my own psyche and how I write.  The Muse series has done me a world of good in figuring out my own style.

4.  Even when writing a novel, keep your blog updated.  I've written two novels in the past year, but I haven't allowed my blog to go by the wayside while doing so.  Yes, it would be easy to do so, especially when dog tired after both a full day of work and writing several thousand words, but I need to stay on track for two reasons - first, I believe that consistent posting schedule is critical to a successful blog.  Sure, some folks might say that too many posts get you lost in the mix, but I think readers discard you if you post too randomly since they won't know when to tune in.  Much like a favorite comic strip, posting consistently provides readers a bit of comfort in an otherwise chaotic world; second, since this blog is so dissimilar than the novels I write(from a style point of view), I get to stretch my legs as a writer and do something different.

5.  Get ahead of schedule if at all possible.  I don't know about any of you, but if I'm facing a blogging deadline, I start to get stressed.  I know that I've said you can't let missing a totally voluntary deadline get to you, but I don't like missing posts if I can help it.  However, meeting a consistent three times a week schedule can become draining if you wait until the night of each post to actually write.  Therefore, I usually write all of my weekly posts in one night(Sunday) and schedule them throughout the week.  Yes, I sometimes change that up if breaking news strikes, and I also don't always meet that goal of having a week's worth of posts done in advance, but I usually pull it off.  The amount of stress having it done relieves is immense.

I've still got such a long way to go, and I hope to incorporate future lessons next year.  Either way, it's gonna be a wild ride.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Blog Structuring

I've been consistently blogging for almost two years now.  Up to this point, I've just sort of gone with whatever came up.  If I had an idea that caught my fancy, I'd blog about it.  This usually worked well, but there were times I found myself without an idea and a blogging deadline fast approaching.  I thought out little in advance since I figured I was a writer, and I should just let things flow.

However, I decided recently that that needed to change.  In order to create a better blog, I need not just consistency in posting, but also in what topics appear.  The willy-nilly approach dances all over the place, leaving the reader to wonder if they'll get a post about interaction between my Muse and I, or whether I'll just put up a chapter from one of my novels.  It seemed a bit haphazard, which is why I've decided to alter things.

I post three times each week, and I'm going to try to make one post each week be about the business of writing, one post be about how to write, and one post be either a creative story of some kind or about blogging.  Yes, there will be a few variations as relevant news breaks, but I think the new structure will provide predictability so folks know what they're in for.  I'll start this new structure the week following New Year's, and I'll do it for the entire month.  At the end of the month, I'll evaluate it and see if it makes sense to continue.

(A purpose to each day)

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

The End User

(Who gets the milk - the farmer, or the four year old?)
One of the things the indie movement has done is that it has helped us keep in mind who the book is for.  One of the things I hate about traditional publishing is that the system of gatekeepers hampers the way we write.  Writers are forced to tailor what they write to the agents and editors of the world rather than the reader.  This is ostensibly so that these gatekeepers can screen out the bad stuff and make sure we only get quality on the shelves.  Unfortunately, anyone who has ever browsed a Barnes & Noble knows that a great deal of garbage makes it through, throwing into doubt the quality control portion of the process.

So thanks to indie, we can write for who the work is really intended - the reader.  This means writing for the audience rather than an agent or editor(in reality, some unpaid intern hoping to score a job when he or she graduates with a degree in creative writing).  This helps in my own editing process by reminding me that although going over each word is important, I get to stay with the effect the word might have rather than whether an agent will consider it extraneous.  Don't get me wrong - there are lots of words in many books than can be unnecessary, but the extra words sometimes add to a story, and I've seen a number of editors say, "Well, I get what you're trying to say, but we need to keep this under 60,000 words, so cut out the parts here and here that convey the mood."

It's critical that we remember that what we write has to have wide appeal, but the readers' tastes can be vastly different than that of your high school English teacher.  I believe writing for the end user allows freedom and a more prosaic style.  If readers don't like your work, they won't buy your books, so you'll know quickly if you need to tweak.  If a faceless editor or agent somewhere doesn't like it, even though their tastes may be waaaaaayyyyy off the mark, your readers will never know what you did.

Whenever you sit down, keep in mind who your stuff is for.  The readers will appreciate it.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Searching For Ideas

I have a journal that I do a lot of writing related things in.  The biggest thing I put in it are the outlines for my novels.  However, I also put in blog ideas.  Every time I come up with a topic I think would be interesting to discuss, I grab my trusty notebook and jot it down.  I do this because I know if I just try to remember it for later, I'll forget.

Sometimes my ideas get low.  When that happens, I sit down with a glass of water and this journal, and I'll brainstorm so that I have several topics.  This way, I'm always a step ahead.

Unfortunately, I didn't do that this time.

I was on a business trip last week, so I didn't devote a lot of time to writing outside of an alternate history short story about the Trojans burning the Trojan Horse and winning their war with the Greeks.  That left me scrambling tonight as I wondered what to blog about.  To be honest, I forgot about blogging ideas until about two minutes prior to sitting down, so I had to search for what to write about.
(Any new ideas in there?)
Staring at a blank screen, it occurred to me that this was a topic in and of itself.  How many of you out there have hit this wall when trying to determine what to blog about?  For those that don't post on a regular schedule, it's probably not a big deal.  Such folks can wait until inspiration strikes them, but I've always said that consistency in your blog is important.  Aside from the fact that regular readers come to rely on its presence on schedule, it also keeps you writing and polishing your style.  Yes, I could hold off, and if things in my life were truly hectic, I'd do so, but being lazy doesn't count as a reasonable excuse.

It can be difficult to keep coming up with new ideas for blogs once you reach a certain number of posts.  Once I publish(likely in May 2016...once I've been back on the US mainland for about a year), I can post things about covers, sales, signings, etc.  However, until then, I have to maintain a broad array of topics, and it can be challenging.  Don't misunderstand me - I don't mean challenging from a whiny "this sucks" point of view, but rather from a "this helps keep me thinking" point of view.  It makes me stay on my toes so that I have to press forward.

Anybody else out there run into a wall on blog ideas?  If so, how do you solve it?

Thursday, December 12, 2013

A Napolean Complex

Short stories can be fun to write.  They offer a break from the work we do writing novels, and they force us to be more compact in our prose in order to convey a complete story the reader will understand.  The flip side, however, is that the short story format can be frustrating - there's so much to say and so little format to do it in that I often feel I'm trying to cram in too much stuff.
(How much stuff do you really need in one meal?)
For the longest time, I didn't understand the parameters of a short story.  Sure, I'd read my share - or maybe more than my share - but I didn't write one until July of 2011.  The only reason I figured out the length to use at that time was because I was entering it in a contest, and the magazine gave specific word counts beyond which my story couldn't go.

I've since entered several more, and although the parameters vary, the usual seems to be between 1,500 and 3,500 words.  Even the "longer" versions present challenges since I have to get a story I could use 25,000 words to flesh out in about an eighth of that size.  For that reason, I have to be careful to be complete without being too in-your-face.  A stark story that shoves too much shit down your throat turns off readers, and that doesn't garner an audience.  So what to do?

For starters, I've learned to simplify my story ideas.  Most of what pops out of my imagination is pretty complex, from a 2nd American Civil War to a story about a ghost trying to avenge himself on the person who killed him.  Unfortunately, there's no way to do these ideas justice in the constrained format of a short story, so I have to pare down what I want to talk about.  That usually means taking one aspect from a fantasy world I've created and presenting just that slice.  Even then, the idea has to be further simplified since it's easy to take certain story elements for granted.

Jumping between novels and short stories can be challenging, but it helps keep us nimble, the same way doing both sprints and long distance slow runs can keep our bodies guessing and help us get in shape.  I'm not a fan of being confined to the smaller format, but even short formats bring out skills we might otherwise never develop, and doesn't that make us better in the end?

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Voices In Our Heads

(What does this face say to you?)
Each of us hears things differently.  Where I might think you're angry with the tone of voice you use, another person might simply think you're under stress.  Body language helps us figure it out, but even that's subject to interpretation.  However, it's still far easier to garner meaning when we can listen to someone than when we just read their words.

How many internet arguments have begun over a misinterpretation?  A while back, I sent out an email with a picture of a scantily clad woman in a bikini washing a car with her tits.  And yes, I used the word tits in the email.  A female friend of mine came back with a stark one line reply that simply read, "Mine are called breasts."  I thought I'd offended her and apologized profusely for being a Neanderthal.  It turns out she was quite surprised by the backtracking on my part since she thought she was adding a funny retort.

So how do we solve the problem?  We've heard countless times that we should show rather than tell, so coming right out and saying "this guy is diabolical" is frowned on.  We're supposed to show it through his actions, but how does one do that during dialogue?  Sure, the dialogue itself could do it, but don't even the most evil creatures sometimes just engage in conversation?  You may want something to evoke a feeling in the reader that the character speaking is god-like, but how do you do that through dialogue alone, especially if the person is making their first statement?
(I told you to blow the fucking whistle!)
The way I sometimes communicate tone of voice is through the use of different fonts.  Yes, it's trite, and it can also make me sound like a douche, but there are times it adds to the story.  In Salvation Day, there is a scene where the main character confronts his first angel.  The angel is yelling that there's no way the guy could possibly pull off his objective, which is to kill God.  The angel simply saying "You will never succeed!" didn't seem to bring out the tone of power I wanted to convey, so I decided to use Gaudy Stout.  The bold tone had just the right feel to give an "oh shit" factor.

Of course, this isn't a technique that you can use often, but done sparingly, I think it helps the reader get into the emotion of what's being said(despite a few "established" writers telling me they didn't approve).  Giving characters distinct tones of voice in critical situations can bring tension to a story, and it can suck the reader in even further.

You have to be willing to experiment where it makes sense if you want to stand out and draw in readers.  It doesn't work every time, but when it does, it makes the story that much more real.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Are Writers Posers?

The last couple of weeks were an interesting experience.  Having assumed some personalities I understood, and some I didn't, I felt challenged as a writer.  That doesn't mean I think I'm a master or something, as there were definitely times that I thought my stuff was flat.  That said, it got me thinking - are writers nothing more than posers?
(Something's just not right here)
I write stories I like to read.  Why do I do that?  Well, as a reader, I like to imagine myself in those roles.  I want to be Nate Caudell rushing across Rivington to stop the AWB.  I like to think that I could be Harry Potter and I'm off to destroy Voldemort's horcruxes.  We want to think that, in the right moment, we could be just as heroic, just as daring, as those characters we're reading about.  It therefore logically follows that we write about people we'd also like to be...even if sometimes those places aren't savory.  Stephen King famously admitted that one of the reasons he wrote The Shining was to get out the real feelings of antagonism he felt at times towards his own children.

So let's grant the premise - writers are posers.  We want to be other people sometimes, because those other people have far more exciting lives and higher ideals than we do.  To me, that makes the question not one of whether or not writers are posers, but whether or not that's a bad thing.

In my estimation, the answer is no.

We all fantasize and daydream.  I don't know a single person who hasn't imagined themselves playing the part of the hero - or even the villain at times - in a world much more exciting than their own.  Let's face it - real life isn't exciting most of the time.  Sure, it's stressful, like when you wonder if you're going to be fired, or just how bad the broken arm your kid got on the playground is, but it's not fantastical.  And that's what we yearn for.  Most of us feel like we were meant for greater things than stamping a bunch of invoices for new boxes of paper clips, so we dream about other possibilities.  The only difference for writers is that we put those thoughts on paper.

Through that, others can enjoy the same dreams.  Those that might not feel able to confess their deepest desires can follow our journey and feel part of an epic tale.  It's a release that lets us stay sane in a mundane yet insane world.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Breaking Up The Band

I've gotten through editing the first three acts of Schism.  This has been the easy part, insofar as any amount of editing is "easy."  I've knocked off about 8,000 words from the 110,000 that was in those three acts, which is less than I expected.  One of the reason is that I noticed I'm becoming a more efficient writer.  I've been able to subconsciously self edit as I wrote the first draft, so there isn't as much to do when I go back in.

That's not to say that things are perfect.  There are still stray adjectives and adverbs, as well as continuity errors that have required rewriting.  Editing remains a grueling process whereby the first two cracks at it aren't very fun since I'm scrubbing my novels rather than enjoying them.

However, it's about to get a lot harder.  Act Four in this book deals with the immediate aftermath of a military coup and how the republic rebuilds itself.  What I noticed, though, when I was writing it was that I didn't give this part of the story enough depth.  I rushed through the material and didn't allow the reader to get drawn into the world before pulling him or her out of it.  Months ago I figured out the only solution I could to do everything justice - I needed to expand on it and split it into two acts.

The new Act Four will be called "The New Order," and it will tell the (brief) story of an America living through a new military dictatorship.  At first, things will appear great - the Second Civil War will be over, crime will be down, and the partisan bickering that led to so much gridlock will be eliminated.  Stuff is getting done and life is getting better, so most folks don't notice or care that their basic freedoms are gone.  It'll only be gradually that they'll figure out what they've lost.

Retaking the country will be conveyed in Act Five, which will still be entitled "Restoration of the Republic," but it will go a little more in-depth on how the junta is forced from power.  I'm hoping to give a sense of realism, and even pride, to the reader.  I want them thinking that the country can come together when most needed, outside of the extremists that took us into the pit.

Of course, that means writing new material instead of editing a solo act(I can't consciously edit and write at the same time - it's too distracting).  This will also expand the novel from around 150,000 words(prior to editing) to around 175,000 words.  I don't see any other way to give the story the breadth it needs.

I hope to start this process next week.  I have a business trip that will involve multiple eight hour plane trips, and life is boring at 30,000 feet.  Why not use my time to bring this project back to life?  I first have to brainstorm more to get a good idea of how to split it and what to add.  I've never done this with a "finished" novel before, and I'm nervous about doing it right.  In the end, however, it'll only make for a better book that more people should enjoy.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Waiting For Godot

Writers like to write.  I guess that goes without saying, but it's still a key element in why writers fail.  Yes, you heard me correctly - writers fail because they like to write.

What kind of absurd mess is this, you might ask?  It's very simple - since writers love to write, they focus almost all of their energy on honing their craft.  They tweak dialogue and agonize over the right sentence structure, and that does indeed contribute to a better product.  Unfortunately, it also means that a large number never focus on finding their niche in the market and attracting an audience.

In the play Waiting For Godot, a pair of wanderers wait by a lonely tree for a man named Godot.  They chat and dream about how much better their lives will be once the legendary Godot shows up, similar to how a convenience store clerk might fantasize about what life will be like when he hits the Powerball Lottery.
(You might be lonely waiting for scraps that never appear)
Many writers are the same way.  When not writing, they'll daydream about what life will be like when they're (rightly) famous and everyone loves their work.  A book tour?  Why of course, but only if the publisher can put me in a proper hotel suite.  A book reading to my adoring fans?  You bet, but will The Forum be big enough to hold everyone without turning people away at the door?

We've all had these fantasies, and they can be fun as long as they don't rule our lives.  The problem with such thinking is that it often boils down to the writer waiting to be discovered rather than forcing discovery on an inundated public.  Of course your work is good, but there's a lot of good work out there, as well as a lot of bad work, and it's up to us to grab the public by the scruff of the neck and make them pay attention.  People - whether they be agents, publishers, or readers in general - don't scroll through the internet looking for that next big breakthrough except in the most rare of circumstances.  I know that many writers imagine some grey-haired publisher clicking on page after page, mumbling, "No, no, these simply won't do," until they happen to come across our blog or novel excerpt.  Then, upon realizing its brilliance, they exclaim, "This is it!  I simply must sign this writer."

How much time do you spend reaching out?  Are you going to book shows and writing conferences to meet people?  Do you make it a goal to sign up at least one new person to your email list each day?  Do you encourage your readers to share your work with strangers?  Have you planned out a marketing strategy that includes free giveaways?

These are the less sexy things that turn writing from a fun hobby into a profession that puts food on the table, and they require more than dreams.  You cannot wait for discovery - you have to take the bull by the horns and make it happen.  Otherwise, all your talk about fame will remain in the realm of talk.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Multiple Personality Disorder

For the past two weeks, I took on several different personas to see if I could write from that person's point of view.  I was everything from an evangelical preacher to an atheist, from a rightwing conservative to a leftwing liberal, as well as a serial killer and a pacifist.  I haven't bounced back and forth that much since I watched Wimbledon last year.

This exercise taught me several things.  First, it showed me just how hard it is to write from a point of view where I have nothing in common with the character.  Several of the personalities I assumed are so far removed from who I am that I had to spend considerably more time on them than others if I wanted credibility.  Even so, taking on a few of them was hard without resorting to clichés.

Clichés.  We all have them with regards to some groups of people.  They're the lazy way we make sense of the world when granting someone an individual personality is just too hard.  Yes, stereotypes exist for a reason, and sometimes people conform to them in a general way.  However, when that stereotype is all we rely on, we lose a lot in translation, and it makes it easier for us to write off the person on the other end.  Since as a writer I can't do that if I want to open up the fiction world to a whole new host of stories and characters, I need to try and understand viewpoints that are alien to me.

I'm still not completely comfortable doing that, although I'm much better at it now than I used to be.  As an example, when I first wrote Wrongful Death, I originally wanted to tell the story from the point of view of a high school girl.  However, I have even less understanding today of high school girls than I did when I was a clueless teenager, so any attempt I made to make that kind of character the focal point of a story would have been a disaster.  There's no way I could've made the point of view believable, and the resulting novel would have been atrocious.

Unfortunately, continuing in this vein severely limits my writing world.  It's one thing to accept one's limitations and know that you have no need to get better.  For example, I know nothing about cars.  When I open up the hood, I might as well be staring at the original equation for String Theory from Albert Einstein.  At the same time, I'm not going to be a mechanic or a race car driver, so I don't have any practical need to understand the internal combustion engine.  I do, on the other hand, have need to understand viewpoints foreign to me since doing so will help me write a better book.  That's what made the entire exercise both frustrating and necessary.

I also learned that people will glom onto anything you write as proof positive that that's who you are.  More than one liberal told me that they knew I was a tea-bagging nutjob, while a pair of atheists said they appreciated having a kindred spirit writing blog posts.  Folks, few, if any, of you have any real idea of what I believe - this was just an exercise, and the emotions aroused in some people were among the biggest compliments I could've gotten.  The only one that didn't draw comment was the one I most wanted to know what people thought - that of the serial killer.  Maybe some things are just better left in the realm of imagination.

I guess it's time to get back to writing.  It's also time for me...and for me.

Roses are red,
violets are blue,
I have multiple personality disorder,
and so do I!

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Give Peace A Chance

This is the final entry in a six part series in which I'm going to try to assume various personas, some of which I understand, and some of which I don't, in order to write from that point of view. Today I'll be playing the part of a pacifist writing an op-ed in his college paper.
(Dreaming of a better world)
The world frustrates me.  No...that's not exactly right - the world itself is a beautiful place.  The sunrises, the waterfalls, the sheer majesty of its splendor...its awesome power can captivate the soul.  Rather than the world, what frustrates me are the people that are in it and the violence most seem to revel in.

I've never understood the proclivity for conflict.  Okay, sure - I see where it occurred in our more primitive past when survival was understood as the hoarding of resources, but as we began to cooperate, this should have fallen to the wayside.  The taking of resources now is counterproductive as it eliminates a whole host of expertise that could contribute to the greater good.

We kill each other at record rates, from the micro level of single person homicides to the macro level of national war.  Quickly prone to anger, we have so much trouble settling our differences without violence at a personal level.  The slightest perceived wrong can set off a fight, and that can soon turn to murder.  On a global scale, nations compete to see who has a bigger set of genitals and don't mind throwing away countless innocent lives on things that don't matter in the cosmic scale of time.  Think about it - can anyone here tell me the benefits gains following the 30 Year War in Europe a few centuries ago?

It's this waste as to why I cannot understand why someone would willingly sign up to shed blood or die for their country.  I see these machismo Soldiers strutting around and wonder what they get out of it.  Does the taking of life make them feel good?  Does sacrificing themselves for nebulous and soon forgotten national interests somehow help them feel fulfilled?

I haven't been in a fight since I was six.  That's not to say I haven't been mad or that no one has ever confronted me, but I've chosen to walk away rather than escalate the conflict.  Yes, some may call me a wimp, but they're the ones who are truly weak.  It takes strength to walk away from violence and not indulge in the anger that rises so quickly.  I've taken my share of sucker punches, but I believe in turning the other cheek, because I know that giving in to violence only begets more violence.  When I refuse to engage, the other person soon loses interest, and the conflict ends.

We should have advanced beyond this by now.  Our intellect and compassion have evolved beyond the primitive instincts that used to rule us.  When we ignore our new status in the world, we hold mankind back from coming together.  Sure, we will always have differences, but we have to learn to tame our violent impulses and find compromise, even accepting sometimes that we can't always get our way.

When someone confronts you, walk away.  De-escalate the situation any way you can, even if that means foregoing your pride, for each time we succumb to violence, we contribute to the debasement of humanity and the abandonment of mercy and compassion in this world.  What's wrong with getting along, and what's wrong with walking away when faced with a fight?  Only when we accept this new way of thinking about our place in the world can we bring peace to everyone and move forward as one.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Thirsting For Blood

This is the fifth of a six part series in which I'm going to try to assume various personas, some of which I understand, and some of which I don't, in order to write from that point of view. Today I'll be playing the part of a serial killer logging his desires in a journal.
(All tools have a purpose...)

I've found her.
It's so hard to describe that feeling of total bliss that comes over you when you locate the one who is going to be your next indulgence.  That all over shiver...ooooohhhhh.
She was dropping her kids off at school today, just like she did the last few days.  I'd noticed her before, but she didn't catch my eye earlier the way she did this morning.  Maybe it was the sun glinting off of her shiny blonde hair or the way her lips curled into that smile when she kissed her kids goodbye.  Whatever it was, it enraptured me, and I knew I had to make her mine.
I followed her home, careful to stay far enough away to not be noticed.  I also turned a street early and circled back - so easy to fade into the everyday camouflage afforded by suburban life.  She didn't see me, intent as she was at jingling her keys in her delicate, soft hands.  She fumbled with the lock momentarily before sliding in her instrument.  Once inside, I could only imagine what she was doing...what she'd soon be doing for me.
Staying by the house all day, it was apparent she was alone.  I don't know if that means she's a single mother or if her hubby just works, but such a creature shouldn't be without companionship.  Were she mine, I'd never let her alone.  She'd be with me through all time...she will be with me through all time.  Never to wake up alone, never to experience life without me, only to feel me inside her as part of her spirit.  It will be glorious.
All of the others were just practice.  This time I know it'll work.  She'll let me in and she'll know joy like she has never known before.  I'll press myself to her, and she'll push back, but only playfully.  There will be the usual games, but in the end, I know how this will end.
Could she reject me?  Could she be like all the others?  Certainly, but that won't happen here - that can't happen here.  I just know it.  This time the knife will bond us, her blood to mine and my blood to hers.  It won't be like the last time...that last time when she just wouldn't come to realize her passion.  No, this time it's real.  This time she'll beg me to join her.
Maybe we'll start in her kitchen.  I've always enjoyed that place.  However, we'll go elsewhere with time.  Perhaps to the bedroom, although I'd prefer a more secluded location.  I think maybe I'll take her someplace where she can let loose her inhibitions.  She'll deny it, protest that she wants to stay for her kids or hubby, but we'll both know that's a lie.  Over such fake denials, she'll want me to conquer her.  I can do that...I will do that.
And if not, she can join others who've rejected me, for there are always more conquests on the horizon.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Leftwing Loon

This is the fourth of a six part series in which I'm going to try to assume various personas, some of which I understand, and some of which I don't, in order to write from that point of view. Today I'll be playing the part of a liberal blogger writing a post for a political website.
(Liberals - foolishly spending money on things like schools and infrastructure)
Let's first get this out in the open - I hate the word "progressive."  I despise it as much as I despise creamed spinach.  This term has crept into our language after a 100 year hiatus only after those of us on the Left turned coward and started eschewing the word "liberal."  We got it in our heads that because some washed up geriatric in 1988 - George H.W. Bush - used it as a pejorative against Michael Dukakis, that it was now a slur and something to be avoided at all costs.
Sorry, but I'm not going to let Rush Limbaugh and Sarah Palin dictate my vocabulary.  I'm a liberal, and I'm damn proud of it.
But why?
Because I believe in standing up for those that can't stand up for themselves.  I think that government should be the Great Equalizer, a place where we can come together to make sure our society is a fair place that helps us take care of each other.  We cannot be driven solely by the desire for profit or nationalistic pride - we have to be driven by the notion that everyone deserves justice.
Taxes are necessary to help educate our children.  A society that's educated is one that has no constraint on what it can accomplish.  I also think that taxes let us build roads, pay for police and fire departments, ensure access to quality healthcare for all, and allow us to take care of the more poor of our nation rather than let them rot on the street or in dilapidated housing so someone else's stock can go up by a quarter of a point.
Conservatives always go on about abortion and the right to life, but their attitude once that life has arrived is "Too bad you can't feed your child, but you should've thought about that before you had him."  This kind of callous disregard for the most innocent among us - children that had no choice in the circumstances they were born into - is exactly what abrogates the Right's claim to any kind of morality.  One would think that we could all agree that children, at the very least, should be fed, clothed, housed, and educated, but conservatives would rather preach about morality rather than demonstrate compassion.  That seems a little backwards to me.
Economic inequality has continued to spread, and all we hear from Republicans is that trying to level the playing field is somehow an attempt to punish success.  What a crock!  What we want is for those who've been more fortunate to bear a little more of the burden for a society that has granted them such fortune.  No one I know wants a rich person to give up all his or her money, but it's incumbent on those who've done better to help out those who need it.  I seem to recall Jesus saying something about that...
It's liberals over the years - not progressives, not hippies, not leftwingers - but liberals who've brought about some of the greatest triumphs of social justice history has seen.  The New Deal ensured our seniors have a retirement income, an adequate infrastructure, and more fair workplace conditions through union pressure.  LBJ passed the Civil Rights Act of 1964 so that every citizen of our nation could enjoy the same rights as everyone else.  President Obama pushed through the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act to make sure that people had access to healthcare and weren't worried about having to declare bankruptcy due to a cancer scare.
Acts like these make me proud to call myself a liberal.  If you want to call me a bleeding heart because I believe in equality and helping each other out, then color me guilty.  We have an obligation to make this world a better place for ourselves and our children, and only through the spirit of compassion and cooperation can we do that.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Rightwing Nutcase

This is the third of a six part series in which I'm going to try to assume various personas, some of which I understand, and some of which I don't, in order to write from that point of view.  Today I'll be playing the part of a conservative columnist writing a column for a rightwing publication.
(Rush is Right)
The mindset of the American liberal never ceases to amaze me.  Even when presented overwhelming factual evidence that their emotion and intention based politics don't work, they'll still defend whatever came out of a prominent Democrat's mouth.  To do otherwise would be to give aid and comfort to the enemy - conservatives - and that might abrogate the moral high ground they claim as their birthright.
The Affordable Care Act is in shambles.  First of all, the Administration had over three and a half years to gear up for the roll out, yet they still managed to bungle it.  Are we really to believe that in a country that put together Google, Amazon, and Facebook, we couldn't cobble together a working website for over $100 million?  Due to the mandate that Chief Justice John Roberts let slide, everyone now has to be covered under some kind of insurance plan, yet how is it fair to charge Americans a penalty for not being signed up when the mechanism to do so doesn't work?
To date, just over 100,000 people have signed up for the insurance exchanges.  That might sound impressive except for three nasty facts:  first, the goal of the Administration for the end of the first month of enrollment was 700,000, so they're just a touch short; second, more people signed a petition for the White House to build the Death Star than signed up for the exchanges; third, there have been over 5 million policy cancellations since this fiasco opened up.
It's the last part I'll touch on next.  Those in favor of the ACA told us, "You can keep your insurance and your doctor if you like them," but that has turned out to be abjectly untrue.  That was part of the grandfathering clause in the bill, and it was a very clever ploy because it ignored that most insurance policies shift slightly from year to year, so the Administration could use that shift to say the policy changed and now is no good any more.
And this is only the tip of the iceberg.  Next is going to come the specter of the death spiral.  You see, the ACA is dependent on younger, healthier people signing up so that they can subsidize the older, sicker ones.  However, due to several factors - such as price increases, website difficulties, and being able to remain on their parents' insurance until they're 26 - most young people aren't signing up.  Therefore, in order to cover the rolls, the insurance companies will have to increase rates.  That will further discourage people to sign up, thus raising rates again.  And so on and so on and so on...
Some will crow about MediCare, but lots of doctors are no longer accepting MediCare, meaning that many have to search for someone who will, and that person is likely a lower quality physician.  There's already a doctor shortage in this country, and it's projected to get worse.  Let's face it, would you become a doctor if you couldn't make decent money to justify the years of schooling and loans you need to get certified?  We're going to end up with poor doctors and worse care.
Care is what this should be about, not coverage.  What good is paying for your medical bills if the care you get is substandard?  If your child dies of cancer, I doubt paying the bill is going to be high on your list.
There are many other factors too numerous to mention here(such as lack of incentive for drug companies to develop new drugs, long wait times to see a doctor, and "patient advisory boards" that are really just death panels), but it's safe to say this is an unmitigated disaster.  Conservatives aren't gloating about this - just pointing out that this is exactly what we said would happen.  The ACA proves that nothing in this world is more dangerous than someone who has good intentions and no idea what he or she is doing.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Reality Over Fantasy

This is the second of a six part series in which I'm going to try to assume various personas, some of which I understand, and some of which I don't, in order to write from that point of view.  Today I'll be playing the part of an atheist writing in a scientific journal about the dangers of religion.
(Only through the application of reason can humanity be free)
I grew up in a religious household, but my parents never forced it down my throat.  I was allowed, instead, to explore various options and come to my own conclusions.  As I developed, I became keenly interested in science and less enamored of religion.  This only grew as I studied the history of religion and the atrocities it has caused and continues to cause.
It's time for us to let go of these fantastical precepts.  I realize that they once provided comfort to a primitive species trying to understand its environment, but as we gained a greater insight into the physical world and the mechanisms behind it, this cloak should have dropped from us.
We once believed that the Earth was the center of the Universe.  It seemed so apparent when we studied the heavens; after all, we couldn't feel ourselves moving, but we could see the stars and planets moving in the sky.  It was only logical at the time to assume that they were rotating around us, and such a belief was in accordance with biblical doctrine.  Since God made man in His own image, He would naturally want His greatest masterpiece at the center of Creation.
We've since come to grasp a far different reality.  Earth is but one tiny planet in one tiny galaxy, and that tiny galaxy is but one of billions in the Universe.  We are the remnants of the Big bang, that explosive event at the beginning of time that created our expanding cosmos.  As we are but an insignificant speck within a universe so large as to defy the imagination, why do we cling to these delusions?
I think it has to do with wanting to feel special.  If there's a God, and He created us, then we have relevance.  The Universe suddenly seems like there might be some semblance of order rather than the random nature that brought us into being, and that comforts many people.  Therefore they reject many of the things proven throughout the years through rational scientific observation and experimentation.  Just as we no longer believe that the Earth is flat, we should no longer believe in the absurd story of Creation when the geological and fossil record shows the gradual evolution of both our world and our species.
Religion has also been responsible for some of our greatest tragedies - the Crusades, the Inquisition, genocides.  All of these have come about as the result of religion and people thinking theirs is the only true one.  Even more recently, the Catholic Church Scandal involving adult priests molesting members of their congregations and seeing their role covered up by the head of the organization speaks to the vile nature of what we give pass due to historical attachment.  Sane minded individuals should be able to see that these destructive influences should be shoved aside.
The more frustrating part is the credence to which people give their God, but only when it suits them.  Mothers and fathers give thanks to God when their child is cured, but they don't place blame on Him when it stands to reason that God would have had to have been the one to create and bestow the disease in the first place.  Sports fans thank God for a home run or the touchdown their quarterback just scored without acknowledging that the opposing sports fans prayed for just the opposite.  Does this mean He's playing favorites, or just that He plunked $100 down to cover the spread for the week?
We've come so far since our hunter-gatherer days, and we could do so much more by relying on reason and fact rather than the notion of an all-powerful deity who can give us whatever we want but chooses not to.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Preaching to the Choir

This is the first of a six part series in which I'm going to try to assume various personas, some of which I understand, and some of which I don't, in order to write from that point of view.  Today I'll be playing the part of an evangelical preacher, and this is his most recent sermon to his Sunday Congregation.
(All things are possible through God)
Good morning.  It's always a beautiful day when God's followers gather for worship, but it seems especially so today.  The sun seems more brilliant, the birds more cheerful, and the flowers much brighter.  God's bounty is with us this morning, and I ask that we all marvel in His work.
As Christ's people, it's our calling to carry forth His word to the world, conscious always of His saving grace.  There are many doubters out there, and much wickedness.  Sometimes it seems a yeoman's task to try and bring the gospel to the world, but it's a burden we should welcome.
Today we'll be talking about sacrifice and what that truly means.  Many of us think we sacrifice - we put down that extra slice of pizza, or we choose to come to church instead of watching the big game.  However, those examples are only illusory.  Real sacrifice comes from the example set by our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.
We all know the story of how Christ died at Calvary and rose again to redeem the world, but do we really understand it?  To most it seems only a vague notion of death and resurrection, but there is much more to it than that - so very much more.
When God's people came out of Egypt and into the Promised Land, they were given a set of laws, and many of those laws involved animal sacrifice.  This was done as an offering to God to show thanks for what He had given.  Unfortunately along the way, the Israelites got so caught up in the letter of the law that they forgot its spirit.  They followed out of habit, leaving out understanding of what they were giving up to honor God.  A young bull that is burnt upon the alter isn't only one less animal for food, but also a sire who gives up generations hence.  God's people forgot that and focused only on what the Bible said to do without knowing what was behind the words.
So when Christ chose to die on the cross, when God said that he would sacrifice His only living son for us, it was a reminder about what He would give up for us because He loves us so.  The crucifixion showed that it's not the offering of some random beast that pleases God, but the spirit in which it is given.  That He gave His only begotten son to save the world showed the depth of God's sacrifice and serves as a reminder of what we must be willing to give up if we want to get closer to our Creator.
My friends, as you go out today into the world, remember not just God's law, but the meaning behind that law.  When God calls on us to put aside the pleasures of the earthly flesh for Him, recall why He does so.  It's not to deprive, but rather to demonstrate a purity of thought and intention that unites us with the very mind of our heavenly father.  Only when we show that we understand the real meaning of sacrifice can we demonstrate our faith not in this world, but in the one promised after it.  I pray that each of you takes this message to your friends and family and rescue them from the emptiness of earthly existence so that they may be saved by His grace.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

A Series of Experiments

I've been wanting to do something for some time.  A while back, I did a piece about writing against conscience.  It involved one of the hardest things I'd ever written when I did a chapter from Salvation Day.  There was an ancillary character who was in Hell for killing a mother and her two year old daughter.  That the character was paying for his crimes wasn't what got to me - it was that I decided to have the reader experience this monster's action through the monster's eyes, so I had to write the horrific scene as if I was the murderer.  Having children myself, writing about a man killing a toddler was one of the most draining and despicable things I've ever had to do.  However, it also opened up a writing world that was previously hidden from me.

We should all try to grow within the craft.  With that in mind, along with my previous experience - an experience I think brought depth to my novel - I've decided to try and replicate it in several ways.  Starting next week, I'm going to do six different stories/posts where I'm going to try and assume the character of a different person.  By doing so, I want to see if I can write against what I believe, and if the audience will be able to tell.  Some of what I write will be only slightly modified from my core principles, while others will be in such sharp contrast that it'll be a different person altogether.

Some of what I write will have the potential in our polarized climate to piss people off, please take everything in the next two weeks with a huge grain of salt.  I'm going to write as an evangelical preacher, as an atheist, as a right wing political hack, as a left wing hippie, as a serial killer, and as a pacifist.  Each thing will stretch me if I'm to bring believability to each role, and some will stretch me more than others.  I think it'll either be a great way to grow as a writer, or it'll send me to the loony bin.  I guess we'll find out.
(Stretching can take shape in unexpected ways)

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Schism - Chapter 1

I've spoken a lot about Schism, the novel I completed last May.  However, it occurred to me that I'd never posted a sample, so I decided to do so.  Below is the first chapter from Act One.  It has gone through the first edit, so there's still some work to be done, but I hope you enjoy it.

            All five were dressed in black as they crept through the woods.  The moon peeked intermittently through the trees, but it provided enough light so they could make their way.  The target was ahead, and they wouldn't allow it to tarnish this landscape.
            Melanie Santos led this motley crew.  She was 23 with puffy cheeks and brown eyes.  She loved being in the woods and learned long ago that short hair was easier to maintain out here.  Behind her, a twig snapped.
            "Be quiet," she hissed.
            But Dan Nettles would have none of it.  "We're 25 miles from the nearest person," he snapped.  "Ain't no one around here gonna see us.  This shit is heavy, and that means we're not going to be the most graceful folks in the world."
            What he was referring to were the two gallon jugs of gasoline he carried.  His pudgy build added the girth needed to carry supplies, but it didn't lend itself to ease of movement.  Behind him, Heath, Tristen, and Carla carried the rest of what they needed - hoses, spray nozzles, etc. - with similar grace.
            "You never know when some asshole camper or Forest Ranger could be wandering around," Melanie said.  "What do you think they'd do if someone found us with all of this stuff?"
            "We've done this kind of thing two other times and haven't come close to getting caught.  You're so paranoid."
            "I still wish we could've parked closer," Tristen grumbled.  The hoses they needed were wrapped around his lanky frame.
            "We had to," Carla said.  "Once this thing goes up, do you want anyone passing by to place our car at the scene?  Besides, this is our territory, and you should feel at home in it."
            Tristen didn't stop grumbling, but he kept it under his breath.  He enjoyed nature - one of the reasons he'd agreed to go along - but he wasn't as close to Gaia as the rest of the crew.  His experience in the wild was limited mainly to rock climbing and the occasional hike; still, further encroachment into unspoiled areas of the wilderness had to be opposed, so he tagged along more out of principle than love of walking up and down rocky hills.
            The wood line broke and Melanie signaled for them to stop.  She pulled out a pair of binoculars and glared at the enemy.  It stood stoically against the night, unaware that it was about to fall.
            "Ugly fucker," Dan muttered.
            "Yeah," Melanie replied.  "I get why people want to come up here, but they ruin the whole thing by putting abominations like that up instead of allowing the Earth to simply exist around them."
            What they were referring to was a nearly finished structure in the clearing.  It was made of logs and wood shingles, with a towering arch held up by two pillars at the front.  Along the front was a series of large windows with new glass that still had blue tape crisscrossed over them.  A few rows of white paint had been slapped on the walls, but there were enough patches of brown to say there was work left to do, a message accentuated by the tools and lumber that dotted the ground.  A sign in front proclaimed the abomination to be the "HIGH COUNTRY MOUNTAIN RESORT AND SKI LODGE."
            Melanie stepped into the clearing.  "Shouldn't be too tough to bring down, and being so late in the season" - it was already July - "I don't think they'll have enough time to rebuild before the snow comes.  Hopefully the winter will do enough damage that it'll be too costly to put up again."
            "Let's do it," Dan said.
            They gathered their gear and began to make their way across the clearing.  Summer had been cooler than usual, with temperatures hovering around 55 to 60, but the hike was making them sweat.  Shuffling towards the lodge, Heath pulled up short and pointed.
            "What's that?"
            "What's what?" Melanie asked as she continued moving towards the target.
            "That."  He took her shoulder and pointed to one of the windows.
            From that window came a faint glow.  It wasn't terribly bright, but it stood out against the night.  As they stared at it, Carla spoke.
            "You don't think anyone's in there, do you?"
            "Don't be ridiculous.  We've been watching this place for more than a week, and no one ever stays the night.  Didn't we watch the last truck pull away a few hours ago?  Look around - there isn't a car or anything in sight.  How would anybody be up here?"  Melanie was right - the gravel lot was barren except for a couple of sawhorses and a scaffold.
            "It's probably either a security light or a droplight that some construction guy forgot to turn off," Melanie argued.  "You don't want to make that trip back to Weippe without finishing what we came up here to do, do you?  That'd just mean another trip tomorrow night, or the next, or however long it took for us to squash this thing."
            Heath nodded, but he felt uneasy.  Even though they hadn't seen any activity at night, he hadn't counted on someone leaving the lights on.  Still, there were no shadows in the windows that indicated people, and there were no vehicles that could've ferried folks out in the event of an emergency, so if anyone was stupid enough to be up here, they'd be up the creek if something happened.
            They dumped their equipment by the entrance, uncoiling hoses and letting metal nozzles and spray cans clatter to the ground(they were more careful with the plastic jugs of gasoline).  Without preamble, Dan and Tristen began pouring the gasoline into the spray cans.  Once that was done, Heath and Carla started attaching long rubber hoses to the cans.
            Melanie took one of the hoses and shot a fine mist of gasoline into the air.  "Seems to be working," she said with a smile.  She then proceeded to soak the wooden pillars by the lodge's front.
            "Daddy, it's cold."
            Ron Turlman looked at his daughter Hannah and smiled.  She was quickly becoming every bit the princess she admired from those Disney movies - curly blond hair and a gap-toothed smile, as well as a growing aversion to dirt - he knew that one day soon he wouldn't be able to talk her into these little adventures anymore.
            "That's why we have sleeping bags," he replied.  "They'll keep us warm.  Just be thankful it isn't October - we'd be hip deep in snow."
            He was a burly man, with a high forehead and scruffy brown beard.  Loving the outdoors was the reason he was here, and building this lodge was the culmination of a lifelong dream.  He and his wife Susan could be away from civilization and enjoy the mountains while making a few bucks.
            "Just think of it as camping without being outdoors," said Ron's 12 year old son Adam.  The boy was his father in miniature - a forehead that showed it would retreat when he hit his mid-20s, and hairy arms that would fill out with muscle as the boy got into football and weightlifting, just like his dad.
            "If this was real camping, we'd be able to build a fire and boil water for a decent cup of coffee," Susan said.
            "Yeah, dad, why don't we have real lights in here?" Hannah asked.
            "The electricity won't be hooked up until August, so we make due with this droplight for now."
            "I still don't know why we have to stay up in this dirty old lodge instead of our hotel," Hannah pouted.
            Ron suppressed a sigh.  Nothing made sense to a nine year old unless she could see an immediate benefit, and waiting for supplies from the contracting company didn't factor in to her comfort level.  "Honey, the men who are going to be bringing up the last bit of wood and paint will be here very early, and we need to be ready when they arrive.  Summer is growing short, and we're going to need every bit of daylight to work if we want to be open for ski season."
            His daughter plopped down on the ground and rested her chin in her hands.  Ron knew she'd rather be in a comfy room somewhere, sitting on the bed and painting her toenails, but she'd get there.  If this lodge became what he wanted it to, one of those comfy rooms might be right here in a few months.
            Adam was already laying back in his sleeping bag and staring at the droplight hung from the ceiling.  Susan sat Indian-style on her sleeping bag and brushed her stiff brown hair.  It was time to go to sleep and he hoped the alarm on his phone would wake him so they'd be standing outside when the first truck pulled up.  It was going to be a long day.
            Outside the window, a faint light grew stronger.
            Melanie dropped the book of matches at the base of the column and took a step back.  That step back became a full leap when a pillar of flame shot up the column and caught the roof.  The fire spread quickly, and she smiled.
            Dan pulled a large piece of plywood away from the building and took out a can of orange spray paint.  He wanted to make sure the wood survived so that the media would get their message.  On it he wrote, "If you build it, we will burn it - ANFPP."
            "We better get out of here," Tristen said.  "That fire looks wild."
            "Relax," Melanie chided.  "I'm pretty sure it's gonna stay confined, but you're right - I don't want to be anywhere near here when folks find this wreckage."
            Flames began to roll around the side of the building.  The gas they'd sprayed along the sides reacted in some way with the paint and sparked an even greater conflagration.  A column by the entrance crashed to the ground, wrapped in fire.  Soon, the night was ablaze.
            He hadn't noticed the orange glow outside until smoke started seeping in through the windows.  The air was soon hazy as smoke clung to the walls.  It was all too obvious to Ron that something was wrong.
            "Everybody up!" he cried, but the command was unnecessary - the entire family was out of the sleeping bags quickly and headed for the door.  By the time they got into the hallway, fire was already lapping at the walls and ceiling.
            "Daddy, what's happening?" Hannah whimpered.
            "The building caught fire.  We need to get out of here."
            Timbers began falling.  Ron put his arm up to his head to protect his face as a piece of wood crashed to the ground in front of him.  Behind him, Adam was virtually dragging his sister towards the entrance, while Susan pushed them from behind.  When they reached the front door, Ron grabbed the knob.
            "Ah!" he yelled.  He shook his hand and grimaced as blisters began to form.  He pulled off his shirt and wrapped it around the doorknob before giving it another try.  It didn't move.  He put his shoulder against it, but again it failed to give way.
            His sweating now had nothing to do with the fire.  With flame-ridden wood collapsing around them, Ron doubted they could make it to the back door.  He backed up, lowered his shoulder, and ran at the door with everything he had, yet it still failed to move - it felt like it was braced from the other side.  The only thing Ron thought he'd broken was his shoulder.
            He sank to the ground in agony as his daughter screamed - the foot of her nightie was on fire and Adam had to smother it with his hands.  Hannah's brother was now shielding her from the fire with his body, and his back was beginning to smoke.
            "We've g-got to go b-b-back," Susan coughed out.
            Ron pulled himself up and tried going towards the back of the lodge, but a wall of fire blocked his path.  He tried pushing through the flames, but the growing inferno stayed his advance as surely as bricks and mortar.  The scream that broke the air was now Ron's as flames lapped at his arm.
            Susan was huddled around Adam and Hannah.  Ron stumbled back to his family and picked up his daughter.
            "We've got to try and break through it."  He looked at Hannah's face, which was now covered in soot and tears.  "Baby, this will hurt, but we don't have any other choice."
            Susan was crying as well, while Adam tried being stoic, but the firelight in his eyes told a different story.  She just nodded at her husband and he dashed into the yellow barrier.  He never reached the other side.
            Somewhere in the ring of fire, the heat took out his legs and he fell, dropping Hannah.  As his skin began to sizzle, he was sure he heard her scream again, but he wasn't conscious long enough to find out for sure.  Within seconds, his body was engulfed.  His last thought was that he didn't see his wife and son race past, and he knew they were consumed as well.
            The woods were cold, but the orange glow on the horizon provided enough light so they could make their way.  They carried out the equipment they'd used so the police couldn't use anything to track the fire back to them.
            As they moved, Tristen said, "I still think I heard something back there that sounded like a scream."
            "That was just pressurized air escaping the wood," Melanie said.  "Stop worrying - there wasn't anybody in there."
            "I hope you're right," Tristen replied.
            It was Dan that had bravado enough to say, "So what if there was?  Greedy Earth fucking pigs would get what they deserved if they got scorched.  Maybe they'll learn to leave nature alone."
            Everyone but Tristen nodded.  They'd done what they had to in order to protect Mother Earth from further desecration, and they would have no sympathy for those who would scar the land just to make money.  Of course, agreeing that those responsible would've gotten what they deserved was a lot easier when they were sure the lodge was empty.
            Firelight from the lodge lit their path for several miles, and by the time the light was useless, they were nearly back.  As they put the gear in the trunk of the beat up Volvo, Melanie smiled and slapped Heath on the back.
            "One more abomination down, a whole lot more to go."
            "This is Morgan Mitchell with a Fox News Alert.  Firefighters and forest rangers near Bald Mountain, Idaho have confirmed the death of a family of four at a ski lodge under construction north of the town of Weippe.  Ron and Susan Turlman, as well as their two children, were overseeing the final stages of construction when arsonists set a fire, trapping the family inside and killing them.  Initial reports are sketchy, but there's evidence the family tried to escape but couldn't due to structural damage.  We go now to Tracy Foreman of KTVB out of Boise.  Tracy?"
            "Thanks Morgan.  The fire at the nearly completed High Country Mountain Resort and Ski Lodge was bright enough to be seen for miles, even from its remote location.  The Turlmans were a local family from Mountain Home, Idaho who loved the outdoors and wanted to find a way to share it with others.  Ron Turlman owned a construction business and decided to build a lodge so his family could enjoy nature and make a little money while they did so.  However, he never imagined it would lead to the death of him and his family.
            "People around here knew the Turlmans pretty well and spoke about how down to Earth they were."
            (Screen reads Rita Kisiah) "They were good people.  Ron was always quick to help out.  When my roof collapsed in the blizzard last year, Ron rebuilt it and didn't press me to pay him - said I could pay him back when I could.  Such a sweet man."
            (Screen reads Jimmy Kelsing, Neighbor) "They wanted to go up into them mountains and retire.  Can't imagine why anyone would wanna kill 'em.  All they was doing was helping make it so that other people could enjoy the mountains too."
            "The High Country Mountain Resort and Ski Lodge was one of many being built in the Bald Mountain area to take advantage of Idaho's booming ski industry.  Investigators are now sifting through the rubble to try and figure out what happened."
            "Any word yet on how the fire might have started?" Morgan asked.
            "The folks I've spoken to believe it was deliberately set, but they won't say anything beyond that.  I've got to tell you, Morgan, there's going to be a lot of anger around here if this turns out to be arson.  Investigators are urging everyone to hold off on jumping to conclusions until more information is uncovered."
            "Thanks Tracy.  Stay tuned to Fox News for more on this developing story."
            Melanie sat on the futon and stared at the TV.  She hated Fox News - or Faux News, as she liked to call them - but they were the only ones who covered the fire in any detail.  She now had little doubt that their adventure had gone terribly wrong.
            Dan plopped down on the futon and kicked off his sandals.  Running his fingers through his hair, he said, "Guess the building wasn't as empty as we thought."
            Melanie turned her head to her fat friend.  "How can you be so glib?  We're about protecting Gaia, not killing innocent people."
            "Do you really think they were innocent?" he sneered.
            She hesitated.  "Okay, maybe not completely innocent, but I still can't believe the fire killed people.  We watched that place for a week.  I knew the routine and the last truck was gone long before we got there."
            "I know, I know - it's tragic."  Dan's voice was flat and showed nothing resembling sympathy.  "Still, if they hadn't done what they'd done, no one would've gotten hurt.  We're at war, Melanie, and sometimes people get hurt.  I wish they didn't, but ain't nothing gonna be completely clean."
            In the corner, Carla wrapped her arms around her knees and had her head buried in the crooks of her arms.  When she looked up, tears were streaming down her pale white face.  "What do we do now?  Are they going to come after us?"
            "No one's going to come get us," Melanie said.  "We took all our stuff, and no one saw us drive away, so the police can't tie it back to us unless one of us goes blabbing.  Just remember that the ANFPP way is to stay anonymous."
            "Speaking of the ANFPP way," Tristen said, "I'm pretty sure that they've found Dan's calling card by now.  Our organization will soon be all over the news.  We have to get out in front of this or we'll lose support."
            "I don't give a shit if we lose support," retorted Dan.  "This is about fighting against those who tarnish our planet.  Direct action is the only way."
            "That may be," Melanie replied, "but Tristen's right.  We always issue a press release so that others will know the consequences of blighting the planet.  We'll need to get something to Seattle as soon as possible so we can shape the story."
            PRESS RELEASE - FROM THE OFFICES OF THE ACTION NETWORK FOR PLANETARY PROTECTION:  ANFPP deplores the loss of any life as an affront to our Mother and Protector.  Life is precious, and this tragic accident shows only the dangers of humanity's continued encroachment into the cradle of Gaia's womb.
            However, further scarring and ecological devastation of our Mother can no longer be tolerated.  For too long we have watched as our natural world is raped by the greed of a few in pursuit of avarice.  It is this crime that must be opposed by all people.  We call upon those who claim devotion to our Mother to say no more to such intrusions.  Only when the people of our planet return the wilderness to its natural state that our fight will cease.  Until then, the struggle goes on.  May the blessings of Mother Gaia shape our hearts in compassion and our minds with respect for all of Her creatures.