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Archive for April, 2013

Yesterday (28 April 2013), I went to a performance of Jesus Christ Superstar. I won’t comment on the production, other than to say that it was distinctly dreadful, but I did leave with a question:

If the audience claps long enough at the end, will the cast perform The Book of Mormon as an encore?

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Wikipedia’s problems are well known. It can be edited by anyone with an account, and the articles aren’t written by people who are expected to be qualified in the subject at hand. The name is also misspelled. (Wikipædia) I don’t let students use it as a source, but that’s not mere prejudice. No encyclopædia is an acceptable source. The word, encyclopædia, means “general education.” Academic papers require primary or secondary sources, not something that is only general knowledge. But I do read articles there when I want a quick overview of something. As a crutch for a memory that has a lot on its mind, Wikipedia can be helpful.

There is one other use, one that’s relevant to authors. The pictures on Wikipedia are in the public domain. If you’re looking for something to add to a blog article or a book cover, look for a picture on the often maligned, but open-to-anyone site.

With that in mind, here’s an ilustration:

800px-Berghia_coerulescens_(Laurillard,_1830)_

It’s a nudibranch, a creature whose existence I came across on Twitter (@GregCampNC) today. Cue Bart Simpson to show the humor in the wee beastie’s name…

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Fans of Douglas Adams will remember his character, Dirk Gently, a private detective who believes in the fundamental interconnectedness of all things and thereby justifies a vacation to a tropical beach as necessary to find a lost pet. This notion comes from a variety of sources. Here in the Western world, Carl Jung’s idea of synchronicity comes to mind.

I point this out because of just such a moment happening to me today (24 April 2013). This afternoon, I’ll discuss the play, Antigone with my Composition II students. The title character wants to bury her dead brother, but because he died attacking his home city, Creon, the king, refuses to allow her to do this. The themes are family loyalty, duty to the state, duty to ritual, and stubbornness despite warnings from the gods.

While reviewing my notes, a tweet came up in my Twitter feed, informing me that a mosque in Boston is refusing religious burial for Suspect #1in the marathon bombings. You can read the story here.

What conclusion are we to draw from this? Vengence is justified, even to the point of killing the attacker when that is the only way to stop the attack. But once a man is dead, it is vindictiveness alone that carries on punishing him. Shakespeare had Mark Antony tell us that “the evil that men do lives after them,” but surely we who live on are in part to blame for continuing that evil.

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My advice to new writers is to write short stories. This teaches building a scene with concentrated conflict and concise action leading to a point. Novels are like undeveloped land in the South–temptations for schemers to sprawl. Of course, said tyros should also be reading such stories, but if I have to tell you that reading is a good idea, you’re probably not meant to be a writer.

Still, we do have to be clear on the purpose of the exercise:

1. You will be writing for practice. You will be writing for enjoyment. You will be writing to keep yourself writing while you’re learning the craft.

2. You will also be writing to put your name and voice out in public. Short story markets are few and far between, and even fewer last more than a handful of issues. If you write westerns, by the way, one that’s shown its intention to remain is Frontiertales.com. Check the authors page for some of my writing, by the way. Understand that when you write short stories, the public purpose is to connect your name to something that people enjoy reading. You’re building a fan base. (All your reader are belong to us–you want this.)

3. But there’s something you need to know before you start. You won’t get paid for short stories. Paying markets are just about dead. There was a time when new writers could get a foothold and make a living by writing science fiction or westerns or even literary stories. No more. No matter what The New Yorker claims, new writers don’t have a chance. Apparently, not even good ones. You don’t write short stories to make money. You write them for the first two reasons.

4. Alas, there’s a fourth lesson. Sometimes, a magazine will dangle the promise of actual money, only to pull a fast one. And thus I must tell my own tale.

In 2008, I submitted a short story to something called Astonishing Adventures Magazine. (I’d give you a link, but I can’t, and you’ll see why soon.) Said outfit claimed to be looking for pulp stories–translation, lots of plot, plenty of action, and none of the high-brow or raised-eyebrow stuff that gets published in the, um, New Yorker. Well, thought I, this is something I can provide. I had written a perfectly atrocious science fiction novel in the mid 90s–yes, sometimes, I have to learn through experience. But some of the chapters were good, so I pulled them out and polished them into a worthy short piece and submitted it. The editor said he liked what I wrote. Big smile. The editor said he wanted to publish it. Happy dance. Life is good, right?

Hold on there, hoss. A short while later, he wrote back to say that the magazine was folding due to lack of funds This happens a lot in the business, as you’ll come to find out if you submit stories. So the years go by, and in the fullness of time, I turned the story into a short e-book for sale on Amazon. Why not? It’s a good story. (You should buy it, he whispers)

Then one day, I was wandering about the aforementioned on-line book seller’s site when to my surprise, I came across this, my story, for sale, in Astonishing Adventures Magazine: Issue 4.

¿Como que huh?

There’s my story being sold without anyone having told me about it. After stomping about my home and scaring my cat, I talked to a few friends who told me to keep calm and carry on. This is life.

Indeed it is, regardless of how unfair it may seem. The lesson here that I have had to learn, the lesson that I’m now trying to teach you, Dear Reader, is that having my name attached to a good story in a place where people can see it is a good thing. Clicking on my name in the list of authors takes you to my own page. Truth be told, I’d rather you buy the story from me directly, but I’d also rather you read it, no matter how you do it.

Yup, keep calm, carry on, and some day, publishers will look at your novel. Until then, write.

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I see the word, Tweeps, used to refer to users of Twitter. Twitterati sounds so much better.

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The two bombing suspects in Boston have been identified, and we see that they are Chechens who over the course of their lives here in the United States became radicals. Once again, the ugly specter of fundamentalist Islamic terrorism is brought to our nation. And once again, the equally ugly specter of hatred toward an entire religion and its believers arises from within.

We are told competing messages. Islam is alternatively a religion of peace and a cult of terror. The majority of Muslims oppose the heinous acts of a few, or they remain silent in the face of dangerous people among them. In all of this, a great many outsiders take it upon themselves to characterize beliefs that they know little about and cultures that they have not studied.

I am not a Muslim, and therefore, what I am about to say here is also the voice of an outsider, but in my defense, I have read the Qur’an and teach portions of it every semester to my World Literature students. Consider the following two passages:

Now therefore, kill every male among the little ones, and kill every woman who has known a man by sleeping with him. But all the young girls who have not known a man by sleeping with him, keep alive for yourselves. Camp outside the camp seven days; whoever of you has killed any person or touched a corpse, purify yourselves and your captives.

And

O mankind! reverence your Guardian Lord, who created you from a single person, created, of like nature, his mate, and from them twain scattered like seeds countless men and women–reverence God, through Whom ye demand your mutual rights, and reverence the wombs that bore you, for God ever watches over you.

Or how about this pair:

If any of you is lacking in wisdom, ask God, who gives to all generously and ungrudgingly, and it will be given you. But ask in faith, never doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, driven and tossed by the wind; for the doubter, being double-minded and unstable in every way, must not expect to receive anything from the Lord.

And

This is the Book; in it is guidance sure, without doubt, to those who fear God, who believe in the unseen and are steadfast in prayer, and spend out of what We have provided for them, and who believe in the revelation sent to you, and sent before your time, and in their hearts have the assurance of the hereafter. They are on true guidance from their Lord, and it is these who will prosper. As to those who reject faith, it is the same to them whether you warn them or do not warn them; they will not believe.

Finally,

Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? Tell me, if you have understanding. Who determined its measurements–surely you know! Or who stretched the line upon it? On what were its bases sunk, or who laid its cornerstone when the morning stars sang together and all the heavenly beings shouted for joy?

And

You certainly know already the first form of creation: Why then do you not celebrate His praises? See you the seed that you sow in the ground? Is it you that cause it to grow, or are We the cause? Were it our will, we could crumble it to dry powder, and you would be left in wonderment.

Call this an intellectual parlor game. Of each pair, which comes from the Bible and which from the Qur’an? The passages are from Numbers 31:17-19, Job 38:4-7, James 1:5-8, and Suras 2:1-6, 4:1, and 56:62-65, if you want to look them up.

What’s the point? The language of the two books is so much alike as to be hard to distinguish. In fact, Hebrew, Aramaic, and Arabic are much like Portuguese, Spanish, and Italian in how closely related they are. Judaism, Christianity, and Islam all come from the same place and share the same cultural heritage. The Hebrew word for God, El, is the same as the Arabic word, Allah.

Have atrocities been committed in the name of Islam? Certainly. The same, though, must be said for acts done from supposedly Christian motives. Conflict between these two daughter faiths of Judaism has gone on for centuries, and both sides have bad actors within their midst. Religion, like any human endeavor, has a mixture of good and evil. The three monotheistic faiths that arose out of the Middle East have been the source for much that is the best of our creations and have shown the worst in us.

Rather than dismiss one as having nothing worthy in it while believing another without introspection, it is better to study all three, to see how they are three members of the same squabbling family, a family that for better or worse has shaped much of our world. To hate one is to hate all, for they share the same spiritual DNA.

Crossposted on Greg Camp’s Weblog.

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