Blood, as a Delicacy, Is Underrated

Those words earned me a first place prize of $20 in a contest for the best first line in a comic vampire novel. The contest was held during the 2010 Ozark Creative Writers’ Conference in Eureka Springs, Arkansas.

Not that I would ever write a vampire novel, comic or otherwise, but I guess it proved I can be succinct – from time to time. I admit that comes as a shock to those who know me best.

What amazed me about that line, and winning, was that it was my first submission for a writing competition. Now, if I can just keep it up. Let’s see, that was $3.33 per word, so a 100,000 word novel would earn me …

 Holy Mackerel! What am I doing wasting time blogging?

OK, seriously, what is it about the European cultures and blood? Have you ever had blood pudding?

I once stood in a working man’s cafeteria line in Geesthacht, Germany, on the Elbe River, paralyzed before a large stainless steel pan filled with — blood, or at least something really, really bloody. It wasn’t like rare steak. It was more like a pan from an autopsy table.

My German friends told me the “pudding” was really fresh. Did that mean there was a meat packing plant close by? Maybe it’s just me, but any recipe that starts off with one quart of pig’s blood is just not that appetizing. I know, it’s a cultural thing.

I didn’t gag, but I also didn’t eat much of anything for lunch that day. Maybe some very white bread, and milk — nothing with shades of pink — that’s for sure.

Which brings me to the observation that perhaps I could write the first line of a comic vampire novel, but I would probably throw up before finishing the first chapter.

Guess I’m just squeamish.

The Return of Souls – A Science Fiction Theme

“I believe we don’t stay dead long”, said Robert Forbisher, a talented composer created by David Mitchell for his epic novel, “Cloud Atlas”.

cloud-atlas

I recently watched for the second time the complex and potentially disturbing movie adaptation of “Cloud Atlas”. The first time I watched it I simply held on for the ride, trying to make sense of the action and changing plots and characters. On second viewing, it was still a page turner, so to speak.

During my second viewing I noticed, apparently for the first time, that short sentence uttered by Robert Forbisher; “We don’t stay dead long”. It was an introspective comment in a letter directed to his lover, and pretty much summed up the entire movie.

In spite of the perplexing current interest in a zombie apocalypse, the “Cloud Atlas” book and film is not about the undead. It’s about reincarnation.

In my opinion there are two themes in science fiction that make for almost limitless possibilities — time travel and reincarnation.  “Cloud Atlas” uses the latter theme as a platform for topics far more meaningful than the tired theme of man meets giant worm, worm eats man, man’s friend kills worm, and so on. Regardless of what I or anyone else thinks about souls or reincarnation, they do make for interesting theater.

Another bit of narration from the movie, this time from Zachry Bailey (played by Tom Hanks) struck a chord with me for it accurately reflected a seriocomic theme in one of my previous posts, Conversation with a Cloud.

In Bailey’s words, “Souls cross ages like clouds cross skies, an’ tho’ a cloud’s shape nor hue nor size don’t stay the same, it’s still a cloud an’ so is a soul. Who can say where the cloud’s blowed from or who the soul’ll be ‘morrow?”

In my own less artful words, quoting a sentient and telepathic cloud that knows it will die at the end of the day, “I am not a cloud. I am moisture. A cloud is my physical appearance, but that changes throughout my life. And regardless of how I look, what I am, vapor, still exists.” 

Fire in the skyIf we accept that almost all religions propose the survival of a soul after death, then the essential question raised by David Mitchell’s story is whether or not an eternal soul is granted only one chance to incarnate.

If you accept the concept of a soul, then you may accept the concept of a God who created  souls. And I would be a very presumptuous man to decide what God would or would not do with one of his creations throughout an eternity of time, an eternity that I cannot even imagine.

Unfortunately, there is no data with which to debate the return of souls. That is, there isn’t if you ignore what seems to be documented anecdotal accounts such as a recent one involving a three-year old Druze boy who seemingly identified his murderer, with supposedly witnessed proof of the crime.

That story, and others like it, make for interesting and mind challenging reading for those steeped in western religion, like myself. As I understand it, in Eastern and Middle Eastern regions such stories are rather commonplace.

Of course the story of the Druze three-year old could be fictitious, an elaborate deception. Regardless of the truth of the existence of souls, and soul mates (a currently popular meme with a subtle assumption of reincarnation) there is a literary aspect to consider. To state the obvious, fiction does not have to be true to be entertaining.

If I were capable of writing a sequel to “Cloud Atlas”, (which I am not), I would be unable to resist adding Karma to the mix. The notion that you get what you deserve, in this life or the next, is simply too enticing to ignore, whether it be truth or fantasy.

For instance, suppose a chapter in a sequel covered the life of Jack the Ripper, of both historical infamy, and future infamy; except in the future, his would-be victims are packing heat (carrying a gun). Jack’s story of infamy would end abruptly.

Based on such a karmic premise, the literary possibilities are endless. With the proper writer in control, they could also prove endlessly entertaining.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

How to Create a Motorcycle Salesman in Five Easy Minutes?

I used to own a Honda 350 motorcycle and drove it about 35,000 miles before I sold it. But that was long ago.

But still, there was a history. Such a good history, in fact, that of late I’ve been admiring a fellow’s 175 cc Honda of the same style and vintage as mine. But I’m not at all in the market for a motorcycle not in the least.

Nevertheless, I was not too surprised last night when I found myself in a dream, in a motorcycle store, looking at motorcycles. I hadn’t been there long before a salesman asked me, “What range are you looking for?” My answer: “I used to have a 350, so a 350 to 500 would be about right. I’m not interested in a big Harley.”

The last bit of conversation from that clerk I remember before I awoke, was “Well, we have an old black and blue junker we could get for you.”

It didn’t occur to me until I was awake that the store clerk thought I was talking price range, in dollars, not engine displacement. He was really confused. And then I thought, “This is my dream, I created that store clerk, so how could he and I not be communicating? How could he be confused?”

And I still wonder that.

The ancients used to think that characters in dreams were embodiments of spirits or actual characters from life, and through dreams we communicate with them. And on the surface, that would seem to fit the data from this dream. But being a modern, educated man I don’t at all believe that. Still, why the confusion within a dream?

Could it be that life itself is so confusing that we simply expect it to be that way, and therefore inject confusion into the characters we create in our dreams? I suppose a dream without confusion would not be a dream.

As a writer of sorts I am tempted to think that in dreaming I’m creating somethingan experience. And as I wake and lay down words, I am truly creating. But as a rule my characters and I always understand each other. I know their needs, desires, and weaknesses.  They don’t surprise me because after all, I created them.

So maybe that is what I should heed from this dream. Perhaps our best creations should surprise us. Perhaps, when we allow ourselves to loosen control of our characters just a bit, they are free to do the unexpected.

Sounds nice, like something a creative writing instructor would say, but predictably, the letting go is the hard part for a technical writer, one who writes as a career scientist, with precision and concision. You can not let go: You have to throttle your writing to best explain sometimes difficult ideas in as simple a way as you can.

Your characters are equations: they have no freedom, they are defined, immutable. Nothing is left to providence. Even chance must be carefully defined, with probability ranges that are known, and in conventional terms agreed upon by the scientific audience at large. Writing like that is a conversation I suppose, between the writer and the audience, but it is never surprising, not if it is to be believable.

Creative thinking, on the other hand, like dreaming, can be surprising. It can lead you were you least expect it. For instance, I thought this little blog post would be about dreaming, but it turned itself into a post about writing. Funny how the mind works some times.

And now that I’ve expanded my mind a bit, I think the dream was right. A buyer thinks of what he wants, a salesman thinks of what commission he can get from the transaction, based on the buyer’s pocket book.

Hmm … guess I created a pretty good motorcycle salesman character last night after all.

 

Disclaimer: the motorcycle salesman created in this dream does not reflect in any way upon any other salesman, real or imagined. It was just a dream.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Where Have All the Letters Gone?

SONY DSC
By Petar Milošević (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
When is the last time you wrote a letter to a family member or loved one?

I’m not talking about email, or text messages; digital communications do not count. I mean a letter on a piece of paper, placed in an envelope with a stamp, and mailed at a mail box or post office; or in a very private way, lovingly slipped underneath someone’s door.

In the hurry up, speak sparingly Twitter generation, there seems to be little value in penning an honest-to-goodness letter. Compared to instant communication, letter writing with an ink-filled pen seems agonizingly slow, sloppy and so twentieth century.

I recently opened a grey metal box that had lain dormant, ignored, for up to 50 years. It was a time capsule, holding remnants of this young man’s life in 1964 and before. In it were letters, letters my Dad had written to me during my college years.

My parents have been gone for many decades now, and reading those letters after such a long time was a joy. Unlike emails and tweets, those letters told a story, a story of how my parents were reacting to and appreciating my new found freedom and expressions of individuality.

My father, a physician who practiced medicine for 50 years, wrote words that are even deeper in meaning now than they seemed at the time. “We are glad that you seek the places that are apart, such as the mountains and the sea,” he wrote. “It is so easy to rush past the beauty and truth of life, especially in this age. An older and wiser one once said, ‘Let us not hurry, not worry, and let us take a moment now and then to smell the flowers along the way.’ ”

And then there were the words I puzzled over briefly before realizing what it meant.  “Their being and meaning will never know the obsolescence of most of that which is taught.”

Frankly, that was a lesson that takes a life-time to understand, for in time we come to know that many things we are taught while young will eventually be found wrong, or at least inaccurate. In other words, so-called truths change.

In 2064, fifty years from now, how will you or your descendants be reminded of things you said, or things your parents and other loved ones thought way back in 2014? How will memories of 2014 be renewed?

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Hourglass. By S Sepp (Own work) [GFDL] via Wikimedia Commons
Even now, the concept of writing love letters seems sweet but archaic to those in their twenties. So I wonder, will there be such a thing as love letters in the future?

Facebook posts certainly won’t be preserved for fifty years. In fact, both Facebook and Twitter will be long forgotten, replaced by more culturally relevant trends. And let’s face it, have you ever said anything on Facebook that deserves to be preserved for fifty years?

I suppose that as my father saw his time on earth becoming increasingly limited, he realized that time, the time to enjoy life, was a precious commodity, yet one not well appreciated until the sand in the clock is half run out. That is an important lesson that I, with my own sand ebbing away, have at last come to appreciate. But if I did not have my Father’s letter to read now, fifty years later, it would be a lesson long forgotten.

In a tweeting, Facebook society, how will we hold pages and memories in our hands when our parents and other loved ones are gone?

Sad to say, I don’t think we will.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Half Magic

1033282 Long before J. K. Rowling began writing the wildly popular Harry Potter series of books on children and magic, Edward Eager wrote a similar themed book in the 1950s. In my child’s mind at that time, Eager’s book, Half Magic, was one of the most remarkable and memorable books I’d ever read. In fact, it is currently rated by some as #54 among the top 100 children’s books.

The fact that it was featured in our elementary school’s library did nothing to detract from the read. After all, that was the joy of school libraries — the ability to browse through the rows of books waiting for discovery.

There was another library book I remember, about a barnstorming pilot who for one reason or another kept crashing, and yet somehow surviving. It was exciting reading, and surprisingly did not deter me from my love of flying. But I digress.

Thanks to the magic of the Internet, I was able to identify Half Magic and download it, and read it. Presto, change-o, just like that!

But, it’s not at all what I remembered.

Here’s the thing about memory; it is ever so malleable, especially in children. All I really remembered in my teenage and adult years was that there was something in it about people who were half white and half black. Frankly I’d forgotten the whole magic theme.

What had colored my memory was the power of a vivid image found on the cover of that book, and the fact that it was popular during a time when racial integration was a frequent topic in the news. Somehow, those mental bits merged into what I believed the book to be. Many years after reading it I had the curious impression that it was a morality play of sorts, where people were in fact half black and half white.

Well, if that happened, racial profiling would be nonexistent, wouldn’t it? If you were of mixed race, with your body literally halved by distinct racial characteristics, then you obviously couldn’t be bigoted. And for that reason I held that book in high esteem. But due to my fragmented memory, I despaired of ever finding it again.

And then there was Google. While I may razz Google a bit for their intrusiveness, I do consider it a blessing to be able to Google the words “half black and half white” and see before me a panoply of related images. There, buried in the search results, was the image of a book cover that I instantly recognized from so long ago.

I had no conscious memory of it, but yet I recognized it among all the other less relevant images. (Yes, there really is such a thing as  subconsciousness, just in case you wondered.)

Happily, the 50th anniversary edition of that book was recently published, so the book is available for another generation of young minds looking for magic with a moral. And indeed, it really is a morality play of sorts. But sadly, someone felt the need to modernize the cover, which is now far more visually complex. But I wonder; is it memorable? HalfMagic

If I had a book cover, I’d want that cover to be memorable enough to transcend the decades, and jump out of my seemingly inaccessible memory like a Jack-in-the-Box long after all other memories of the book had faded.

I am patiently waiting for my 6-year old grandchild to be still long enough to let me read her this book. As for the rest of you, real childhood magic as portrayed in Half Magic may not be as fantastical as Harry Potter, Hogwarts School, and the dark Lord Voldemort, but it seems a lot more believable.

For more information on this memorable book:

http://magicvalley.com/lifestyles/relationships-and-special-occasions/summer-book-club-half-magic/article_b1414bf4-d895-5800-8f16-169da042a889.html