Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Rules to write by

The original (wonderful) list is from William Safire, ca. 1970. This expanded version is from a nifty blog I discovered today.

- Avoid run-on sentences they are hard to read.

- Don't use no double negatives.

- Use the semicolon properly, always use it where it is appropriate; and never where it isn't.

- Reserve the apostrophe for it's proper use and omit it when its not needed.

- Do not put statements in the negative form.

- Verbs has to agree with their subjects.

- No sentence fragments.

- Proofread carefully to see if you any words out.

- If any word is improper at the end of a sentence, a linking verb is.

- Steer clear of incorrect verb forms that have snuck into the language.

- Take the bull by the hand in leading away from mixed metaphors.

- Avoid trendy locutions that sound flaky.

- Like, be aware that "like" is, like, easily misused.

- Try to never split infinitives.

- Never, ever use repetitive redundancies.

- Everyone should be careful to use a singular pronoun with singular nouns in their writing.

- I must have told you a million times to resist hyperbole.

- Also, avoid awkward and affected alliteration.

- "Avoid overuse of 'quotation "marks" ' ".

- Avoid commas, that are not necessary.

- A writer must not shift your point of view.

- And don't start a sentence with a conjunction.

- Don't overuse exclamation marks!!!!!

- Place pronouns as close as possible, especially in long sentences, as of ten or more words, to their antecedents.

- Write all adverbial forms correct.

- Avoid un-necessary hyphenation.

- When dangling, watch your participles.

- It is incumbent on us to avoid archaic phrases.

- Never use a long word when a diminutive one will do.

- It's hard to imagine a phrase when you will have needed the future perfect.

- Unqualified superlatives are the worst.

- Last but not least, avoid cliches like the plague.

- A preposition is a terrible word to end a sentence with.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

New Blog

Some of you know that I have a blog for my churchly musings as well. I'm moving it from journalscape to Blogger because it's a much easier platform for me to use. If you're interested in what a pastor who writes horror stories has to say about faith, justice and sundry topics, check out God and Stuff.

Monday, March 23, 2009

No Escape for me

I got a rejection letter (a very nice one actually) from Jeremiah Tolbert at Escape Pod. They didn't want "Closing Time at Galaxy Video" so I'll have hunt for another market. On the plus side he said he likes my writing.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Supernatural Gets Good

I don't watch that much television, but something I have kept up with for the last few years has been the show "Supernatural". The basic premise is that there are people who secretly hunt the ghosts, monsters and demons that plague humanity. It focuses on the activities of two of these hunters, Sam and Dean Winchester, as they fight the good fight.

I didn't get into the show in the first season. It seemed to me too interested in gimmicks and a cool image and not enough in substance. That's changed (at least my perception of it has changed) as the show has become smarter, funnier, and more insightful. It does a nice job of exploring the ethics of difficult choices, and it's two fallible heroes often choose poorly, but never without consequence. Their long campaign is making them tougher, wiser, and more cynical, just as real-world wars so often do to the people who fight them.

The series has been focusing on demons for some time and largely ignoring ghosts, vampires, and other sundry monsters. That's not a bad thing IMO, because different monsters give a story a different mood and feel. A vampire story is different from a ghost story is different from a werewolf story and so on. Finding a niche, as "Buffy" did with vampires is a good idea.

Very recently the show crossed into less familiar territory as it introduced angels as characters. There have been shows like "Highway to Heaven" and "Touched by an Angel" that have done this before but their angels have been benign, and rather bland, creatures. The angels on "Supernatural" are darker, more awe-inspiring, and more frightening. It's also not a foregone conclusion that they are good. They can be arrogant, callous, and justify terrible actions in the name of their holy war on the powers of evil. It's led Sam and Dean to question whether the angels are any better than the demons.

Dark territory, and relatively new for television, but this bleak view of heaven has been a part of speculative fiction since the 1970's when the war of Heaven and Hell became a frequent parallel to the Cold War. They became two super-powers, one 'good' and the other 'evil' but so ruthless in their struggle that neither cares about the collateral damage they cause.

There have been a number of novels that have picked up on this theme. So many, that it's become something of a cliche. In television it's an idea that was ably explored on the SF series, "Babylon 5", but when I saw "Supernatural" heading in that direction my first thought was, "Oh no, not again."

But tonight's episode suggests that something different, and far more interesting, is happening. Castiel, the main angel character, is conflicted about the ruthless things he is told to do.

In tonight's episode, Castiel recruits Dean to torture information out of a captured demon. He is tormented by having to do this, but believes that it is God's will. Anna, an angel who has deserted fromHeaven's ranks, challenges Castiel's obedience.
She suggests that the orders form on-high aren't coming from God and challenges him to think for himself.

The parallel to the US war on terror is apparent. Is it a okay to justify torture and other terrible things in the name of a good cause? It's also a good critique of many people's experience of Christianity where good people have often been co-opted into heartless actions and attitudes by those who claim to represent the will of God.

If I'm right about where they're going, the message isn't to reject God. Far from it, the message is to follow God by doing those things that God loves, showing honesty, compassion and courage. It's a call to grow up and take responsibility for our own actions. To give up unquestioning obedience to those who claim to speak for God.

As a writer, I like the insight and originality of the direction the show is taking. As a pastor, I hope this is a theme that we see a lot more in the years to come. It's good for Christians to remember that their faith was founded by one who questioned the authority of religious leaders all the time.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Another Chapter Down

Nearly 4,000 words in this one, and it gives us a better look at the vampires' lair as well as the past of out homeless hero, Gus. This was a very difficult chapter to get started, but once it took off it was fun to write and just flowed.

I checked my trusty copy of THE VAMPIRE ENCYCLOPEDIA by Matthew Bunson and came up with some really neat lore about roses that looks like it will become very significant. I think there are some genuinely creepy moments in the abandoned buildings that Gus and the deputy investigate, and a scene with one of the vampiers and a gun that I've wanted to write for years.

It's off to Bobbie for review and edits. I can't wait to see where she takes things from here.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

And one more...

When I was working on the superior scribbler award I missed one that should have been obvious. Win Scott Eckert has been a good friend for quite a while now. He's an up and coming writer with a great imagination and an unflinching work ethic (just take a look at his Wold-Newton Universe website and you'll see what I mean).

Friday, March 6, 2009

You Don't Know What You've Got

I got my copy of this anthology from Gryphonwood press in the mail toady. I've only had a chance to glance at it, but it looks great. The stories are all built around the theme of "loss and dispossession" and look like they take a wide variety of forms. I'm looking forward to reading htis over the weekend.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

The Scribbler

Thanks to my friend, Bobbie Metevier whose blog can be found at EXPRESSIONS for awarding me a Superior Scribbler Award! The rules say that I get to pass this on to five deserving folks so I've chosen the following...

1) Writer on Writing who is a great writer and a great guy. Lots of helpful tips here, especially for aspiring screenwriters.

2) Rakie at Armageddon Checklist who doesn't post often but is one of the funniest people ever.

3) The (not so infamous) Michelle McCrary, who recently saw her first story acceptance (YAY!)

4) William's Ramblings by William Jones of Elder Signs Press, one of the most helpful editors ever.

5) And finally, the first editor to accept something of mine and a friend, Jean-Marc Lofficier who is also the owner/publisher of Black Coat Press.

Don't Mess With Lawyers (Unless You're Groucho)

This is an old favorite story that I rediscovered a few days ago. it seems that, when the Marx Brothers were working on their movie, A NIGHT IN CASABLANCA, they received a letter from Warner Brothers Studios warning them that they were infringing on the studio's intellectual property rights. A few years earlier, WB had put out the classic movie, CASABLANCA and they feared...I'm not exactly sure what they feared, to tell the truth. In any case, they got a letter back, written in classic Groucho style...

Dear Warner Brothers,

Apparently there is more than one way of conquering a city and holding it as your own. For example, up to the time that we contemplated making this picture, I had no idea that the city of Casablanca belonged exclusively to Warner Brothers. However, it was only a few days after our announcement appeared that we received your long, ominous legal document warning us not to use the name Casablanca.

It seems that in 1471, Ferdinand Balboa Warner, your great-great-grandfather, while looking for a shortcut to the city of Burbank, had stumbled on the shores of Africa and, raising his alpenstock (which he later turned in for a hundred shares of common), named it Casablanca.

I just don’t understand your attitude. Even if you plan on releasing your picture, I am sure that the average movie fan could learn in time to distinguish between Ingrid Bergman and Harpo. I don’t know whether I could, but I certainly would like to try.

You claim that you own Casablanca and that no one else can use that name without permission. What about “Warner Brothers”? Do you own that too? You probably have the right to use the name Warner, but what about the name Brothers? Professionally, we were brothers long before you were. We were touring the sticks as the Marx Brothers when Vitaphone was still a gleam in the inventor’s eye, and even before there had been other brothers—the Smith Brothers; the Brothers Karamazov; Dan Brothers, an outfielder with Detroit; and “Brother, Can You Spare a Dime?” (This was originally “Brothers, Can You Spare a Dime?” but this was spreading a dime pretty thin, so they threw out one brother, gave all the money to the other one, and whittled it down to “Brother, Can You Spare a Dime?”)

Now Jack, how about you? Do you maintain that yours is an original name? Well it’s not. It was used long before you were born. Offhand, I can think of two Jacks—Jack of “Jack and the Beanstalk,” and Jack the Ripper, who cut quite a figure in his day.

As for you, Harry, you probably sign your checks sure in the belief that you are the first Harry of all time and that all other Harrys are impostors. I can think of two Harrys that preceded you. There was Lighthouse Harry of Revolutionary fame and a Harry Appelbaum who lived on the corner of 93rd Street and Lexington Avenue. Unfortunately, Appelbaum wasn’t too well-known. The last I heard of him, he was selling neckties at Weber and Heilbroner.

Now about the Burbank studio. I believe this is what you brothers call your place. Old man Burbank is gone. Perhaps you remember him. He was a great man in a garden. His wife often said Luther had ten green thumbs. What a witty woman she must have been! Burbank was the wizard who crossed all those fruits and vegetables until he had the poor plants in such confused and jittery condition that they could never decide whether to enter the dining room on the meat platter or the dessert dish.

This is pure conjecture, of course, but who knows—perhaps Burbank’s survivors aren’t too happy with the fact that a plant that grinds out pictures on a quota settled in their town, appropriated Burbank’s name and uses it as a front for their films. It is even possible that the Burbank family is prouder of the potato produced by the old man than they are of the fact that your studio emerged “Casablanca” or even “Gold Diggers of 1931.”

This all seems to add up to a pretty bitter tirade, but I assure you it’s not meant to. I love Warners. Some of my best friends are Warner Brothers. It is even possible that I am doing you an injustice and that you, yourselves, know nothing about this dog-in-the-Wanger attitude. It wouldn’t surprise me at all to discover that the heads of your legal department are unaware of this absurd dispute, for I am acquainted with many of them and they are fine fellows with curly black hair, double-breasted suits and a love of their fellow man that out-Saroyans Saroyan.

I have a hunch that his attempt to prevent us from using the title is the brainchild of some ferret-faced shyster, serving a brief apprenticeship in your legal department. I know the type well—hot out of law school, hungry for success, and too ambitious to follow the natural laws of promotion. This bar sinister probably needled your attorneys, most of whom are fine fellows with curly black hair, double-breasted suits, etc., into attempting to enjoin us. Well, he won’t get away with it! We’ll fight him to the highest court! No pasty-faced legal adventurer is going to cause bad blood between the Warners and the Marxes. We are all brothers under the skin, and we’ll remain friends till the last reel of “A Night in Casablanca” goes tumbling over the spool.


Groucho Marx