Saturday, April 30, 2011

NASA's Alien Anomalies caught on film - We are not alone.

This video, which is compilation of stunning UFO footage from NASA's archives, provides fodder for the existence of aliens

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Creating Short Stories 08 – Characters

Did you have a good look at the story Kate Chopin: Story of an Hour

Did you see the beginning, the middle, and the end? Did you notice how close to the end the story began?


What made that story interesting to read? We might venture, the plot and that might be true, but only partially. What makes a story interesting, whether a short story or a full-length novel, resides in the characters in the story. The people in the story need believability; they must interest the readers. Maybe more importantly, the writer must somehow make the reader care about the characters—especially the protagonist. Think about it. If you don’t care one way or the other about the central character, why read to story?

How does a writer get to know and understand the characters in a story so he or she may impart that information to readers? I mentioned earlier in Creating Short Stories 05 - Kurt Vonnegut Speaks

about people from our lives. Some people may have enough people in their lives that and can just open memories and have all the interesting, loveable people readers can root for. I’m not one of those lucky souls.

I get many of my characters from my home away from home: Starbucks. Some mornings, I arrive there early to watch the people grabbing their morning beverage. Or listen to the one-sided cell phone conversations such as this:

“Hi, how are you?”

“I love you.”

“Did I wake you up?”

“You pig!”

Really, you can’t make up some of what you hear.

When I studied writing poetry, I sat and watched people so I could write poems about their faces and other attributes. I still do this with a more comprehensive bent.) I’d try to imagine what joy or sorrow motivated their expressions. Some cues to watch were the smiles, frowns, or looks of puzzlement. Another clue to their feelings came by observing their posture. What do you think someone sitting with his or her shoulders hunched over and staring at the floor might feel at that particular moment?

Later, I used the captured feelings for characters in stories. Perfectly fun!

Other ways exist to capture and develop characters. For instance, keep a journal. A notebook will suffice; even an electronic version will be adequate. I use a NEO from Renaissance Learning

. It boots up in a few seconds. You can type in the notes and power it down with the push of a button.

A journal provides a continuous document, and you can use it for ideas and notes or whatever. Even how you feel that day, or write about interesting things that happen. And if nothing interesting happened, make it interesting. You are a writer.

Next week we’ll continue with characters.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Rolling Stones Respectable

Every once in a while, I need to pick up the pace. That's when the Rolling Stones come to mind.

New York Times Best Sellers

Combined Print & E-Book Fiction Weeks

1 WATER FOR ELEPHANTS, by Sara Gruen. (Algonquin.) After his parents die in a car accident, a young veterinary student — and an elephant — save a Depression-era circus.

2 CHASING FIRE, by Nora Roberts. (Penguin Group.) A smoke jumper faces a new season of firefighting in Montana after the loss of her partner.

3 THE LINCOLN LAWYER, by Michael Connelly. (Little, Brown.) Routinely doing business from his Lincoln Town Cars, the bottom-feeding attorney Mickey Haller is asked to defend the scion of a wealthy family who might not be guilty of a murderous crime.

4 THE FIFTH WITNESS, by Michael Connelly. (Little, Brown.) The defense lawyer Mickey Haller represents a woman facing home foreclosure who is accused of killing a banker.

5 THE HELP, by Kathryn Stockett. (Penguin Group.) A young white woman and two black maids in 1960s Mississippi.

Visit the New York Times

Friday, April 22, 2011

NASA Reveals Water Planet

This NASA view of Earth from space indicates how much water, simple H2O, covers the planet. This reminds me of an old film, The Man Who Fell to Earth, starring David Bowie. Bowie played an alien who came to Earth to save his dying planet by getting water there, ostensibly from Earth. Also in the movie were Candy Clark and Rip Torn. (I always loved that name.)

Bowie, thwarted in his ambitions, becomes a depraved rock and roll singer. Oh, the irony!

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

The Tiny Dot Explains Taxes

I came across this at Nourishing Obscurity and thought it was just too true to not post.

Creating Short Stories 06: Kate Chopin – Story of an Hour

When I first began to write, I took a course that suggested we read short stories written by great authors to get an idea of how to write a story that someone might want to read. One of the stories I read was Kate Chopin’s Story of an Hour, which appears after this brief introduction.

The story, written in 1894, seems quite different from what is commercially acceptable in contemporary times. To my taste, I enjoy how they wrote during that era (Am I old-fashioned?). The command of the English language amazes me. The description and metaphor certainly engage the mind.

As you read it, you’ll discover that a plethora of passive style fills the page. Further, mostly it tells rather than shows as teachers recommend today.

You might come away with the impression that Kate Chopin used a different language to create this gem of a story, perhaps a reflection of the linguistics of the times.

Note also, the joy Louise Mallard feels at the news of her husband’s sudden death. She would weep for him, and has feelings for him; “she loved him sometimes.” But now she was "free, free, free."

The stories begs the question if she was a proto-feminist. Maybe, maybe not. The story reflects a feeling of being freed from something. A bad marriage? Ann Bail Howard writes, “When she published The Awakening in 1899, Kate Chopin startled her public with a frank portrayal of a woman’s social, sexual, and spiritual awakening.” Click here for the full text! Sounds like a feminist to me.

As you pore over this gem, you’ll clearly see the beginning, middle and the end—if you look hard enough. Another, facet is the use of metaphor and description which adds a wonderful flavor to the reading.

I hope you enjoy it as a model for “good writing.”

The Story of an Hour

Written by Kate Chopin (1894)

Knowing that Mrs. Mallard was afflicted with a heart trouble, great care was taken to break to her as gently as possible the news of her husband's death.

It was her sister Josephine who told her, in broken sentences; veiled hints that revealed in half concealing. Her husband's friend Richards was there, too, near her. It was he who had been in the newspaper office when intelligence of the railroad disaster was received, with Brently Mallard's name leading the list of "killed." He had only taken the time to assure himself of its truth by a second telegram, and had hastened to forestall any less careful, less tender friend in bearing the sad message.
She did not hear the story as many women have heard the same, with a paralyzed inability to accept its significance. She wept at once, with sudden, wild abandonment, in her sister's arms. When the storm of grief had spent itself she went away to her room alone. She would have no one follow her.

There stood, facing the open window, a comfortable, roomy armchair. Into this she sank, pressed down by a physical exhaustion that haunted her body and seemed to reach into her soul.

She could see in the open square before her house the tops of trees that were all aquiver with the new spring life. The delicious breath of rain was in the air. In the street below a peddler was crying his wares. The notes of a distant song which someone was singing reached her faintly, and countless sparrows were twittering in the eaves.

There were patches of blue sky showing here and there through the clouds that had met and piled one above the other in the west facing her window.

She sat with her head thrown back upon the cushion of the chair, quite motionless, except when a sob came up into her throat and shook her, as a child who has cried itself to sleep continues to sob in its dreams.

She was young, with a fair, calm face, whose lines bespoke repression and even a certain strength. But now there was a dull stare in her eyes, whose gaze was fixed away off yonder on one of those patches of blue sky. It was not a glance of reflection, but rather indicated a suspension of intelligent thought.

There was something coming to her and she was waiting for it, fearfully. What was it? She did not know; it was too subtle and elusive to name. But she felt it, creeping out of the sky, reaching toward her through the sounds, the scents, the color that filled the air.

Now her bosom rose and fell tumultuously. She was beginning to recognize this thing that was approaching to possess her, and she was striving to beat it back with her will—as powerless as her two white slender hands would have been. When she abandoned herself a little whispered word escaped her slightly parted lips. She said it over and over under her breath: "free, free, free!" The vacant stare and the look of terror that had followed it went from her eyes. They stayed keen and bright. Her pulses beat fast, and the coursing blood warmed and relaxed every inch of her body.

She did not stop to ask if it were or were not a monstrous joy that held her. A clear and exalted perception enabled her to dismiss the suggestion as trivial. She knew that she would weep again when she saw the kind, tender hands folded in death; the face that had never looked save with love upon her, fixed and gray and dead. But she saw beyond that bitter moment a long procession of years to come that would belong to her absolutely. And she opened and spread her arms out to them in welcome.

There would be no one to live for during those coming years; she would live for herself. There would be no powerful will bending hers in that blind persistence with which men and women believe they have a right to impose a private will upon a fellow-creature. A kind intention or a cruel intention made the act seem no less a crime as she looked upon it in that brief moment of illumination.

And yet she had loved him—sometimes. Often she had not. What did it matter! What could love, the unsolved mystery, count for in the face of this possession of self-assertion which she suddenly recognized as the strongest impulse of her being!

"Free! Body and soul free!" she kept whispering.

Josephine was kneeling before the closed door with her lips to the keyhole, imploring for admission. "Louise, open the door! I beg; open the door—you will make yourself ill. What are you doing, Louise? For heaven's sake open the door."

"Go away. I am not making myself ill." No, she was drinking in a very elixir of life through that open window.

Her fancy was running riot along those days ahead of her. Spring days, and summer days, and all sorts of days that would be her own. She breathed a quick prayer that life might be long. It was only yesterday she had thought with a shudder that life might be long.

She arose at length and opened the door to her sister's importunities. There was a feverish triumph in her eyes, and she carried herself unwittingly like a goddess of Victory. She clasped her sister's waist, and together they descended the stairs. Richards stood waiting for them at the bottom.

Some one was opening the front door with a latchkey. It was Brently Mallard who entered, a little travel-stained, composedly carrying his grip-sack and umbrella. He had been far from the scene of the accident, and did not even know there had been one. He stood amazed at Josephine's piercing cry; at Richards' quick motion to screen him from the view of his wife.

When the doctors came they said she had died of heart disease—of the joy that kills.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

New York Times Best Sellers

Combined Print & E-Book Fiction

THE FIFTH WITNESS, by Michael Connelly. (Little, Brown.) The defense lawyer Mickey Haller represents a woman facing home foreclosure who is accused of killing a banker.

WATER FOR ELEPHANTS, by Sara Gruen. (Algonquin.) After his parents die in a car accident, a young veterinary student — and an elephant — save a Depression-era circus.

THE LINCOLN LAWYER, by Michael Connelly. (Little, Brown.) Routinely doing business from his Lincoln Town Cars, the bottom-feeding attorney Mickey Haller is asked to defend the scion of a wealthy family who might not be guilty of a murderous crime.

I'LL WALK ALONE, by Mary Higgins Clark. (Simon & Schuster.) A woman haunted by the disappearance of her young son discovers that someone has stolen her identity.

THE HELP, by Kathryn Stockett. (Penguin Group.) A young white woman and two black maids in 1960s Mississippi.

Visit the New York Times

Friday, April 15, 2011

Dinosaur Attacks

When I saw this video, I had to post it. Imagine if one of these monsters managed to be transported through time to our current era. How would people react?

Atlas Shrugged All Over Again

Atlas Shrugged, by Ayn Rand, stands as one of the most widely read books ever written. I've read it four times. In 2008, sales of Atlas Shrugged reached 200,000 and topped 500,000 in 2009. This represents a large amount of sales by any measure of literary success.
Why does this much maligned, and often lauded, novel continue to top the book sales charts? I think it represents what all free people crave, the right to pursue life on their own terms, without interference from those who believe they know better.
Is it a perfect philosophy? Of course not, people are people, warts and all. Human imperfections have the tendency to make the most ideal constructs tragedies.
The underlying factor in this books success is how well Ayn Rand wrote it. Tension ruled the pages.
Here’s a trailer for your viewing pleasure:

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Science Fiction Author H G Wells

Here's a thoughtful quote from science fiction author H.G. Wells.

“We were making the future, he said, and hardly any of us troubled to think what future we were making. And here it is!”
H. G. Wells

I think this might give writers pause to think about what they represent in their books because of the impact it can have on people. For example, Roddenberry's series, Star Trek portrays a world of equality and fantastic technological innovation that helps people of all civilizations live better.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Creating Short Stories 05 - Kurt Vonnegut Speaks

Kurt Vonnegut told tremendous stories. I especially enjoyed Slaughterhouse Five, his World War II critique. The story repeats "So it goes." throughout the book to shed light on the enigmatic circumstances of Billy Pilgrim life as he shifts in time.

Slaughterhouse Five appeared on film in 1972. Here's a trailer:

Vonnegut ranks among the best American writers. Let's listen to what he says about writing a story.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

New York Times Best Seller List

1 THE LAND OF THE PAINTED CAVES, by Jean M. Auel. (Crown.) The latest volume in a series that began with “The Clan of the Cave Bear,” set during the ice age.

2 LOVER UNLEASHED, by J. R. Ward. (Penguin Group.) Book 9 of the Black Dagger Brotherhood series.

3 2 WATER FOR ELEPHANTS, by Sara Gruen. (Algonquin.) After his parents die in a car accident, a young veterinary student — and an elephant — save a Depression-era circus.

4 3 THE LINCOLN LAWYER, by Michael Connelly. (Little, Brown.) Routinely doing business from his Lincoln Town Cars, the bottom-feeding attorney Mickey Haller is asked to defend the scion of a wealthy family who might not be guilty of a murderous crime.

5 MYSTERY, by Jonathan Kellerman. (Random House.) The Los Angeles psychologist-detective Alex Delaware and the detective Milo Sturgis work on a grisly homicide case.

Visit the NY Times

Monday, April 11, 2011

Celebrate National Library Week, April 10-16, 2011

Libraries have been one of my favorite hangouts since I discovered the magic of books when I was eight years old. See How I Became Addicted! for that story. Some of the best libraries were on college campuses. For instance the Alvin Sherman Library, Research and Information Technology Center! pictured below presents an impressive knowledge warehouse. I like to get there often.

Libraries offer a multitude of media for your enjoyment: books (of course), videos, DVDs, E-Books, information regarding virtually subject at the help desk in subjects such as science, literature, how to, biography, science fiction, social systems, philosophy, almost anything.

Do yourself a favor. Visit a library today.


One of the funniest things happened the other day. While I sat in Starbucks, a person who frequents the same location approached me explaining that we had a mutual friend. I see this person there almost every day. He sits with a group that engages combative political discussions and other mindless prattle.

I abhor this crowd and always take the seat farthest from where they sit yelling and screaming at one another, pretending they understand the issue. In reality, they all repeat the words of the pundits they see on TV.

After the introduction, he said in rapid-fire sequence, “I’m writing a book. I don’t know how to use a computer very well; in fact, I stink at using computers. Our friend “name withheld” said you write books and use the computer all the time.”

My neck twisted into a tight spring-like coil as I sat motionless, wondering what he wanted.

He continued. “I have Open Office. Can you tell me how to use it?”

I thought for a second and said, “I use Microsoft Office. It has ribbon format that’s intuitive. All I do is sit there, look at the menus at the top, and figure it out. You can but a Home and Student version for about $120.00.”

All the time I’m thinking, if this person wanted to learn how to use a software program, he could stop engaging in the dialog with his entourage and go to the library to learn it. Why should I take my time from my activities when he could easily spend his time more wisely?

After a few minutes, he finally realized my skill set was in MS Office, and I couldn’t help him with Open Office.

Thankful he left to return to his argumentative circle, the tension left my neck. I resumed reading, thinking we’d have no other contact.

Unfortunately, the worst of all situations has arisen. Now when I enter the store he says, “Hi Rick.” He thinks we’re friends.

AAAARRRRGGGGHHH! The horror, oh the horror.

Friday, April 8, 2011

2011 Science Fiction Hall of Fame Inductees

The 2011 inductees to the Science Fiction Hall of Fame are Harlan Ellison, Vincent Di Fate, Moebius, and Gardner Dozois.

The induction ceremony will be held Saturday June 25, 2011 at the Experience Music Project/Science Fiction Museum in Seattle WA as part of the Science Fiction Awards Weekend, June 24-26, 2011, in conjunction with the Locus Awards and NW Media Arts writing workshops with Terry Bisson and Connie Willis. The museum will also feature exhibits on Battlestar Galactica and Avatar. Further information and tickets to the Science Fiction Awards Weekend are available on the Locus website.

Visit Locus Magazine

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Gene Roddenberry

For me science fiction is a way of thinking, a way of logic that bypasses a lot of nonsense. It allows people to look directly at important subjects.

Gene Roddenberry

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Creating Short Stories 04

Making the Short Story Soup

See Creating Short Stories!

A story needs to contain events, conflicts, and confrontations that involve the protagonist to keep the reader interested in reading on. It’s the writer’s job to create these bad things in the context of telling the story. For example, in The Puppet Masters, Robert Heinlein had space alien slugs take over human beings. Click here to view the unseemly event!

What kind of a person could think of such atrocities? Other than sadists and psychopaths, that would be writers. Think about all the gruesome things Stephen King did to his characters. In Carrie, a young female high school graduate destroys the graduating class with her telekinetic powers. In Needful Things, he turns the inhabitants of a New England town violently against each other.

What kind of monster are writers? What kind of evil minds do they have?
In reality, writers don’t hurt people. They only use complications, tragic events, tension, and conflict to pen stories that readers want to read.

In writing stories, additional depth comes from metaphor, simile, artistic license, and believability. All these fit into the actions, reactions, and the twists and turns embedded in the prose.

All of these events have a time and place in which they occur.

One masterful short story writer, O Henry wrote the following opening for his story, The Guilty Party.

“A red-haired, unshaven, untidy man sat in a rocking chair by a window. He had just lighted a pipe, and was puffing blue clouds with great satisfaction. He had removed his shoes and donned a pair of blue, faded carpet-slippers. With the morbid thirst of the confirmed daily news drinker, he awkwardly folded back the pages of an evening paper, eagerly gulping down the strong, black headlines, to be followed as a chaser by the milder details of the smaller type.

In an adjoining room a woman was cooking supper. Odors from strong bacon and boiling coffee contended against the cut-plug fumes from the vespertine pipe.

Outside was one of those crowded streets of the east side, in which, as twilight falls, Satan sets up his recruiting office. A mighty host of children danced and ran and played in the street. Some in rags, some in clean white and beribboned, some wild and restless as young hawks, some gentle-faced and shrinking, some shrieking rude and sinful words, some listening, awed, but soon, grown familiar, to embrace--here were the children playing in the corridors of the House of Sin. Above the playground forever hovered a great bird. The bird was known to humorists as the stork. But the people of Chrystie street were better ornithologists. They called it a vulture.”

The next two lines take the story directly into the action and dialog.

A little girl of twelve came up timidly to the man reading and resting by the window, and said:

"Papa, won't you play a game of checkers with me if you aren't too tired?"

This portion of the series will continue next week.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

New York Times Best Seller List

Combined Print & E-Book Fiction Weeks
on List 1 LIVE WIRE, by Harlan Coben. (Penguin Group.) Myron Bolitar’s search for a missing rock star leads to questions about his own missing brother.

2 WATER FOR ELEPHANTS, by Sara Gruen. (Algonquin.) After his parents die in a car accident, a young veterinary student — and an elephant — save a Depression-era circus.

3 THE LINCOLN LAWYER, by Michael Connelly. (Little, Brown.) Routinely doing business from his Lincoln Town Cars, the bottom-feeding attorney Mickey Haller is asked to defend the scion of a wealthy family who might not be guilty of a murderous crime.

4 SING YOU HOME, by Jodi Picoult. (Simon & Schuster.) Picoult takes on the issue of gay rights in this novel about a music therapist who desperately wants a child.

5 TOYS, by James Patterson and Neil McMahon. (Little, Brown.) Hays Baker, a top operative for the Agency of Change and a national hero, suddenly finds himself a hunted fugitive who must fight to save humans from extinction.

Visit the NY Times

Monday, April 4, 2011

Why Sci-Fi? Author Robert Heinlein

Robert Heinlein born in Butler Missouri, (1907–1988), American science fiction writer, also referred to as the “Dean of Science Fiction Writers” was another major contributor to the science fiction genre entertained readers with 32 novels, 59 short stories. Further, four were turned into motion pictures, two into television series, and a radio series. Along with Arthur Clarke and Isaac Asimov, he was named one of the “Big Three of Science Fiction”

Several of his works made their way into other media forms: Destination Moon, Tom Corbett, Space Cadet, Red Planet, The Puppet Masters, Starship Troopers, and Roughnecks: The Starship Troopers Chronicles was a television series.
In one of Heinlein’s works, Friday, which is about an artificial person, equality is an underlying theme. This fits well with the apparent social themes of individual rights and self-reliance in his literature. Further, Heinlein contributed the neologisms grok and waldo, to the English language.

One of the more memorable films was The Puppet Masters, in which alien beings that appear as slugs invade Earth. The slimy creatures attach to people and control them. Secret agents, who can exchange body parts as if they were automobile parts, attempt to save the day and the planets from the alien takeover. Here’s a peek:


Heinlein’s also other notable works include Starship Troopers, Stranger in a Strange Land, Starman Jones, Red Planet, and Glory Road.

Robert Heinlein Quotes: “I am free because I know that I alone am morally responsible for everything I do. I am free, no matter what rules surround me. If I find them tolerable, I tolerate them; if I find them too obnoxious, I break them. I am free because I know that I alone am morally responsible for everything I do.”
“Never underestimate the power of human stupidity.”

Friday, April 1, 2011

Digital Books Educate

Education Changing with Technology
As a firm believer in technological innovation, and how it benefits humankind, I like seeing this method of getting knowledge to the masses. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if the global population could educate itself without leaving home?

Think of the benefits. It’s green because no one need drive to a brick and mortar building that must be built to accommodate students’ physical presence. This means no gas emissions and fewer pollutants. In addition, educators can have a global reach. In other words, no more excuses for ignorance.

An Inkling of the Future? Enhanced Ebooks and the College Textbook Market
By Yvette Chin, Editor, Digital Book World

Last week, interactive textbook app startup Inkling announced new partnerships with two of the major players in the higher education textbook industry. McGraw-Hill is set to release its top 100 undergraduate titles as well its medical school curriculum. Pearson Education is offering several business and health care titles, primarily through its Prentice Hall and Benjamin Cummings imprints. The Inkling iPad app offers interactivity, not just with the course material (well beyond standard textbook conversions to digital formats), but also among students engaged with the same text. At the same time, Inkling directly challenges traditional textbook pricing through an optional “by chapter” business model that might boost course adoption this fall.

Click here for the full article!

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