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.

Sunday, November 10, 2013


We've all heard the platitude that you need to have passion if you want to succeed at writing, and until recently, a platitude was all it was to me.  Sure, I paid it lip service and played a good game with regards to it, but I never truly understood it as it relates to what we do.  However, that has recently changed, and it took a secondary project for me to get it.

I'm a parent, and my children do some crazy things.  Most of my friends are also parents, and our children all seem to be in the same age ranges.  Those children also do some crazy things, and I thought it would be fun for a group of us to blog about situations we never thought we'd find ourselves in(like the time I fished a heart shaped locket out of a turd filled toilet for my daughter).  There were seven of us, and we set up a blogging rotation where each of us had a day to blog.  The blog's name is Once Upon a Potty, and I never figured it would be difficult to keep current.  After all, I do three posts a week here, and most are much more involved than anything I pictured for what was supposed to be a fun parenting story site.

Yet it has fallen to the wayside.

Blogging on the site became something of a chore.  Further, for the other parents, they put up the occasional post, but it never garnered the same passion with which we discussed our stories with each other.  And it seems like it was due to our lack of overall interest.

Now don't get me wrong - none of us lacks interest in our kids, and we still love talking to each other about the bizarre things our kids do(things I know any parent out there could relate to).  However, putting it into blog form never took off, maybe because we were busy living it and were drained before we could blog about any of it.

With my writing, on the other hand, it's a passion that I feel the urge to discuss with random strangers.  Further, the act of blogging is a form of writing in itself, whereas parenting isn't done over the Internet.  I love doing both with equal passion, but they require different things.  Since I find blogging to be an outlet for my obsession with writing, it's not hard to do it on a regular basis.  Relating stories about my kids is just something I do with friends, and posting about it doesn't hold the same appeal.

That's how I realized the difference between the platitude of passion for a topic and what true passion for that topic is.  In our writing, we have to be passionate about it in order to stay with it.  Find an outlet for what you love or else it'll go the way of my other website - mostly abandoned and worked on only when I feel like it(which I usually don't).
(Have passion for what you do, no matter how bizarre it might seem)

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Time Off

I know that I wrote a while back that it's okay to take some time away from writing.  And it is.  We all need some recovery time to pursue other things.  Maybe we have kids to spend time with or have always wanted to take up skydiving.  I think that's a great way to let the mind decompress.  I also think it's okay to not kick yourself if you miss something now and again.

Just don't make a habit out of it.

The occasional break or shifting of a time goal is perfectly understandable.  Unfortunately, it can lead to a cycle of always taking time away, and we all know that once you take one day off, it's easier to take the next day off.  In that respect, it's like working out - one day here or there means little, but it gets worse cumulatively until you wonder when you ever found time to do it in the first place.

This has hit me recently with my writing.  I finished my most recent novel just over a month ago, and I had all these wonderful plans to do before starting up my next book in January.  All I needed, I felt, was a tiny rest break.  Well, that tiny rest break turned into three and a half weeks before I turned around, and I found that it took a great deal to get me back into the swing of things once I started up again.

My grandiose plans of writing a short story a week now lay in tatters, as does getting the first edit of Schism complete prior to Thanksgiving.  I simply took too much time off, and getting back into my groove is challenging.  What's worse is that I got off track on when I make blog entries, so I have to catch up a little.

Who's fault is this?  Mine, plain and simple, and I've found a way out.  I'm now editing every day and going back to my traditional updating.  This weekend, I'll be writing my next short story, with a goal of doing two this weekend and one each week until my Christmas vacation.  Yes, it'll be a chore at first, but just like with the novels I've written, once I'm back on track, I'll look forward each day to writing again.  Who knows...I might even start my next novel's outline soon...
(Keep the wheel turnin')

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Back on the Editing Train

I haven't even looked at Schism in the past few months, but I'm also in between books right now, so I decided that it was time for my first chop on the novel.  Enough time had passed that I could look at it with fresh eyes, always key for an edit.

Schism is a bit different in that I wrote it as a four act novel rather than a continuous stream of thought, so I've been able to focus on Act One.  I'm proud to say that that's done, so it'll soon be time to move on to Act Two.  However, before I do, I thought I'd share the lessons I learned from what I just completed.

1.  No matter how good you thought you were on your first draft, it'll always need work.  Don't fall into the trap of thinking that just because you put your heart and soul into something that it can't get any better.  I found lots of  errors in Act One - there were extraneous words, lots of adverbs that were unnecessary, and the styles didn't always match.  What I mean by the last part of that sentence is that I tell this story through the interposing of news broadcasts and blog comments, and they didn't always follow the same format.  Readers like consistency because it'll help them follow the story, and I had some issues in this.

2.  Speaking of extraneous words, always pare down a sentence until it no longer makes sense.  Re-look the words you use and figure out if another, more descriptive word, can make the sentence shorter.  I had to go back numerous times and remember that people aren't "very tired" - they're "exhausted."  People "sprint" - they don't "sprint quickly."  There were lots more examples that folks won't see because I eliminated them.

3.  Double check your characters to make sure you keep the same person talking.  In conversations that didn't involve the main character, I found that I'd accidentally switched who the speaker was without noticing.  When you're writing the draft and just chugging away, this is easy to miss.  However, when you go back to edit and start reading again, this can sow momentary confusion before you realize the mistake...and it's a lot more common than you might think.

4.  Be willing to cut parts that don't contribute to the story.  No matter how wedded you are to a section or how well you thought you crafted it, if it doesn't move the plot forward, get rid of it.  Of course there are some things you need to leave in so you can properly set the scene, but this has to be done judiciously.  Too much fluff bores the reader, and I was as guilty of this in Act One as the next person.

These are just a few thoughts as I dive full force back into editing.  I'm still glad I don't do this as I go because it would disrupt the flow, but it serves well to make what you think is a decent product into a better one.

Sunday, November 3, 2013


I've written six books and a dozen short stories, and I'm proud of each of them, even the ones that need more work before they'll be ready for publication.  I dive into each one with enthusiasm, and when I'm on a roll, I look forward to writing every day.

So why does it feel like such a chore near the end of each?

As the tale winds down, I feel like a marathoner trudging towards the finish line.  This has happened with each book, and it's frustrating.  I find myself getting anxious, and even though I still love the story, I start wondering if I can use shortcuts to just get near the end.

I think this is the result of several factors.  First of all, as I get near the end, I stop outlining.  This isn't done out of laziness - the outline is so that I know where to go when I get stuck, and I know where the story is concluding at this point.  However, having an outline is a bit of a security blanket.  I can look down and see the road ahead, but that's not the case near the end.  Although I know where the story is finishing up, I don't have tangible proof of it in front of me, and I think that unnerves me a little.  Maybe I should outline right to the end with some specificity so that I won't be looking around for something.

Second, I get impatient.  The book done that part of me just wants to sprint to the finish line, while the part of me that demands quality and fidelity to my original idea won't let me do that.  It'd be so much easier if the computer could just transcribe my thoughts and the images they produce directly onto the page.  But since that's not yet within the realm of technology, it feels like it's so close yet so far.  Also, since I have a day job for funny stuff like food and shelter, I can't spend every waking moment writing to the end.  I'll be on a roll when I have to stop for some reason or another(even for something as mundane as the day's 24 hours are up), and I look longingly at my unfinished manuscript.

Finally, there's always the feeling that maybe I got the ending wrong.  Think about it - you've just poured your heart and soul into this lengthy piece, one that has consumed the last several months of your life, and now you have to make sure it ends in a way that justifies the effort you expended.  We all want to make sure our work is worth it, so struggling for that ending is something a lot of writers can relate to.  Plus there's always that nagging voice in your head that wonders if you got it right.  It always makes for a struggle.

I hope that this phenomenon will lessen and I get more time to devote to the work, but I don't know if that'll happen.  The initial idea is always exhilarating, but it requires focus to see it through to the end, and focus is hard.  Most people don't do it well, even when it's something that ignites their passion.