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Writing in Public, Too: Day 24 - Skylarking!

writinginpublicUp at 6am. Out the door by 6:30. Out of work at about 5pm, after an entire shift where I literally wasn't able to so much as sit down until the last fifteen minutes. I don't do well with no food for ten hours... Really need to find a way to grab a granola bar or something on the fly. It's sad when you put in two hours of overtime, and still leave an hour of work undone behind you. Frustrating, too. OK, back to Waltham by about 5:20 - made good time. And made it to the dentist late, but they took me anyway. Had to get a temporary cap on a tooth replaced (old one cracked). It didn't take them very long. Feels a little odd, but hey, it only has to last a couple of weeks. Then they do the permanent crown. (SO not really looking forward to that!)

Got home in time for Susan to leave. She was out to visit with a friend this evening, and left shortly after I arrived. A very "ships in the night" sort of day. I continued reading the book on writing; also browsed some Amazon genre pages, doing a little research on what is selling, and how. I still track percentage data sometimes, although not as carefully as I once did. Anyway, thinking about the genres, I had a new idea for a story. Actually, I had several new ideas for stories, but this one, I decided to work on a little bit.

So after dinner, I skimmed the first couple chapters of "Skylark of Space".

For anyone who's never read the book, this is a bit of classic SF from E.E. Smith, one of the most famous science fiction writers of the pulp era. Awesome story, if you can handle the dated storytelling style. I love it, but I admit if can be an acquired taste. Anyway, I was thinking about Skylark, and looking at my bookshelf, where there is a book titled "How to Build Your Own Spaceship". So I stole the title, and the seed of the technology from Skylark, and started writing something for my kids.

My girls are seven, and one of them is voraciously reading anything in her path. She's not - QUITE - to where she can handle full length adult fiction. But she's close. And I was thinking I could maybe write something she would like, that older people would enjoy as well. So I wrote about 750 words of a story, then sat her on my lap and read the story to her (actually, she was supposed to be in bed by then, but was complaining of a nightmare, so I let her read it to me as a bedtime story to take her mind off bad dreams).

She liked it, and wants to read more. ;)

This will be a fun side project to spend some time on while working on the other stories.

 

For your entertainment, the very first pages of How to Build Your Own Spaceship (first draft work)

Dana's face froze.

Playing chemist in the basement was one thing. Accidentally dissolving your mom's platinum ring was another, she figured. And if Mom would ground her for the chemistry (well, she might or might not – Mom was pretty cool), she'd feed Dana to piranhas if she found out about the ring.

Lucky her, it wasn't a piece of jewelry Mom wore all that often. It was an old family ring, and Dana had figured it was a prime candidate for her experimentation in electroplating. She had the acid bath. She had the copper bar in her hand. And she had the electric current from a car battery, which up until a few moments ago had been hooked up to the platinum ring.

She wasn't expecting the platinum to dissolve! She clenched her teeth, trying not to howl in frustration. Mom used the aqua regia to etch platinum for her artwork. It wasn't supposed to make platinum just go poof like that.

Absently, she reached forward to stir the solution with the copper rod. Maybe the electroplating would still work?

Bang!

Her ears hurt. Her fingers, the ones that had been loosely holding the copper rod, stung. The steel wire she'd looped around the bar to run back to the battery was dangling loose. What had made that loud noise? And where was the copper rod? She looked into the little pot filled with solution. Had the copper dissolved too?

No... She thought it would have left some sort of telltale residue. The platinum had.

She looked around the room, wondering what had happened, and her eyes were drawn to a small hole in the wall, right near the ceiling of the basement. It was small; she only noticed it because she could see sunlight through it. She'd never seen the hole before, though – and she spent a lot of time down here, working on one science project or another. If it wasn't chemistry, it was robotics or engineering or rocketry. So she knew that wall as well as she knew her bedroom.

And funny, that hole was about the same width as the missing copper bar.

 

A short while later, she had four holes in the wall instead of one, but she'd figured out what the heck was going on. She winced, looking at the holes, and pulled out the chunk of gray modeling clay she'd swiped from the art supplies in her homeschool room. Carefully, she took four chunks of the clay and pressed them into the four holes. The color matched the wall pretty well. She didn't think anyone would notice.

But she'd figured it out. Somehow, the platinum solution, plus a current, in contact with the copper, made the copper move. And not just move, but move fast. Almost faster than her eyes could see, even at the lowest level of power. Plus, the holes got bigger if she added more electricity into the mix. And when she hooked a bunch of paperclips onto the copper bar, they went along for the ride.

“Holy shit,” she said softly. She figured even Mom would agree this was one of those times it was OK to use bad words.

She's been lucky she wasn't holding that first chunk of copper too tight, or it might have taken her along. Through the wall. Who knew how far. She shivered a little.

Take away the current, though, and nothing happened. And when she tried a smaller battery, the copper sped away noticeably slower. So however the reaction was being created, she could control it by controlling the amount of electricity present.

Dana wondered how far those copper bars had gone before the reaction stopped. Maybe they'd even gone into space! She'd launched model rockets before, but it would really be something if she could launch her own little copper rockets into orbit.

Mom would be home soon, though. And she felt like she wanted to keep this from her mother for a little while yet...like maybe forever, if she could. It was a really cool reaction, like nothing she'd ever read about. But she didn't think it would be cool enough to save her if Mom found out about the ring. And she didn't like the idea of being grounded. Like, forever. Or at least for however long it took to get from thirteen to being away at college. Which might as well be forever.

 

 

Totals for Day 23

Daily Fiction Wordcount: 750 words    Month to date fiction: 33650 words

Daily Blog Post Wordcount: 529 words    Month to date blog posts: 14239 words

#YAsaves and the Wall Street Journal

Well, while Robin and my little drama was unfolding (thanks again, all, for the outstanding support!), I completely missed the other big news in reading and literature. On June 4th, the Wall Street Journal published an article by Meghan Cox Gurdon about young adult literature. Her take? That YA lit has over the last few decades become something dark and potentially harmful to teens reading it. The whole article is worth a read, if you haven't yet. Try not to knee-jerk about it, as you do: look at it from the perspective that this woman is concerned about our youth, and wants the best for them as best she understands it. I disagree with her on quite a lot of points, but her goal, to keep kids safe and help them grow up sound, is a noble one. There's some good commentary on it here and here. And honestly, google "yasaves" and you'll see scads more. It's a hot topic.

I was a precocious reader. I read "The Hobbit" in kindergarten, and the Rings trilogy in first grade. Needless to say, when the RIF van came around with new books, I had a really hard time finding anything to read! I got special dispensation to go check out the tables set aside for the 7th and 8th graders. The books there (things like the Black Stallion books or the Three Investigators novels) were really below my reading level at that point, but were fun quick reads.

But during that year, I brought home one book about a cat, and got my very first lesson on censorship. My mother spotted the book, read some of it, immediately running into scenes where a vile child puts kittens in a sack and tries to drown them in a river. When several survive, all but one then gets eaten by dogs.

My mom, well meaning soul that she was, threw the book out. I was stunned. I'd never been told I could not read something before. Understand, I grew up in a house where reading was a, if not the, primary form of entertainment. We had thousands of books. I had read, well, lots of them. But I'd never been told not to read something. A very small part of me never completely forgave her for that.

Was she right? Maybe. Somehow, I think if I could handle Sauron, RingWraiths, and giant spiders without nightmares, I could manage an abusive jerk hurting kittens. Maybe not. But it definitely impacted my reading. I began reading things quietly. I stopped talking to my mother so much about what I was reading. When I came across a couple of boxes of my Dad's old pulp novels in 3rd grade, I tore through them without even asking. Alien. The original Conan stories. Jirel of Jory. Fritz Lieber. Lovecraft. Hundreds of others. I didn't ask, and just as important, I didn't tell. I'd learned the lesson that reading was something which could be curtailed without warning or explanation. So I read what I wanted and kept anything I thought might be questionable out of view.

And I handled it pretty well, although it probably contributed to a love of books that has kept me writing stories. So arguably, I was permanently damaged if you see a burning desire to write as damage.  ;)

But see, there's that problem with censoring things. When you censor without great care and caution, you undermine a child's trust in your judgement. Undermine that trust, and you handicap your ability to help the child to understand and cope with the things they're bound to run into sooner or later anyway. I have kids of my own now: 5, 5, and 2. And while the older pair (twins) are not as precocious as I was with reading, both can now read. In a year or two, they'll probably be physically capable of reading pretty much whatever they want. Our house is crammed full of books of all sorts - thousands of them, just like when I was young. Censoring all of that simply isn't going to be possible. In the internet era (all three kids are internet savvy already, in a totally-parentally-supervised manner), if kids want to access something, they can and will find it.

Parental role, then, shifts toward helping children understand and cope with what they find. And that, in turn, requires that we find ways to ensure our children continue to trust us and see us as a source for help in that coping. I don't want my kids to linger in silence and confusion about something they read, because they no longer trust me enough to tell me they read it.

 

There's another piece to this puzzle, too. The original article said:

How dark is contemporary fiction for teens? Darker than when you were a child, my dear: So dark that kidnapping and pederasty and incest and brutal beatings are now just part of the run of things in novels directed, broadly speaking, at children from the ages of 12 to 18.

and

Mirroring the tumultuous times, dark topics began surging on to children's bookshelves.

But look for a second at other forms of entertainment. Check TV: where instead of fairly black and white (morally) shows of the 80s and 90s, the last few years have churned out drama after drama depicting badly flawed characters and often horrific situations. One only needs to scan the prime time channel guide to see scads of police procedurals, more often than not peering into the darkest parts of our society and culture.

"Profanity that would get a song or movie branded with a parental warning is, in young-adult novels, so commonplace that most reviewers do not even remark upon it," says Gurdon. But this is the language most teens now use among each other. YA novels use the language they do because that's the language teens use. Trying to remove it would make the books seem unreal, distant. Teens would lose a sense of connection to the characters.

And the other, yes horrible, material? Once upon a time, a teen who became pregnant was removed from school. Now, often, they continue education. Once upon a time a molested child was never rescued, and just grew up "dealing with it". Now, our culture collectively does battle against this crime, and when we catch an offender it is splashed across newspapers and TV screens as a warning to other predators and a battle cry for everyone else to continue the war. Once upon a time kids didn't have metal detectors in schools. Once upon a time brutality and evil were not spoken of. They still happened, though. What's changed is our awareness.

Kids today are growing up in a world where terrorists have slaughtered thousands of people. Where gunmen have attacked schools, have killed doctors. Where Amber Alerts serve to help catch kidnappers - noble, worthy, valuable!- but bringing into constant awareness of these children that they are under threat, under siege, by people who actively want to hurt them.

The age when an eight year old is truly innocent of the idea that some people want to hurt, rape, or kill him/her is gone, if it ever existed. We teach children to stay close to us in crowd so they cannot be taken away from us. We teach children not to get into strangers' cars. We teach children how to go for help, and to talk to us or teachers if someone touches them in certain ways.

Kids are not stupid. They understand what all this adds up to. The world is a dangerous, sometimes incredibly hostile place. And the literature they choose to read reflects that, and reflects a desire to understand it, to absorb it, and to find ways of dealing with it and moving on.

So I disagree with the article and the points raised. I mourn that our world is not one where children can grow up idyllic and care-free. I would give some of that to my children if I could. I can't. We don't live there. And so the very discussions I have with them to keep them safe are a steady education in the darkness and danger that exists in their world. No matter how abstract I get. Like I said, kids are not stupid. They're often far brighter and far more able to make connections than parents give them credit for. If teens are opting to read books which help them find ways to cope with the bad parts of living in our world through exploring the darkness, I'm thinking it would be unwise to block them.

Rather, I think I will try to be the parent who is there, a trusted friend and confidant, able to give help in dealing with the things they run into when they need it. If we do not give them our trust, though, they will never give us theirs.

Camp NaNoWriMo Coming Up

NaNoWriMo is a blast. My wife and I have done it together three times now, and I credit NaNo with no small part of my renewed interest in writing, the last few years. What's NaNoWriMo? National Novel Writing Month. Every November, tens of thousands of writers get together (was over 150k last year) and try to write 50,000 words of a novel. You can start November 1st; you have to finish by the end of November 30th. Literally tens of thousands of people accomplish it each year. There's a wonderful and supportive community, with writers ranging from full pros to complete novices and amateurs.

But what is Camp NaNoWriMo?

The Office of Letters and Light - the non-profit responsible for hosting and managing NaNo - have started something new this year, "Camp NaNoWriMo". The Camp is an attempt to bring a smaller version of NaNo into the summer months.

Starting in mid-June, folks will be able to sign in to the site and look around, getting used to the interface. In July, a pared down version of the Camp will kick off - write a novel in July? Yikes! In August, they'll be running it *again*, and writers should be able to use the full feature set of the Camp website.

Never tried to write two novels in a month back to back. ;) Could be really interesting to give it a shot this summer.

Or, just pick one and do it. But get writing - after all, a novel in a month is only about 1600 words a day. With a little pushing and

a little willpower, that's not beyond the pale for just about anyone to accomplish.

I'll be updating more as we get closer. November NaNoWriMo is always an outstanding time. I think these Camps sound like they could be a lot of fun - and very useful for productivity as well! Anyone else thinking about giving this a try, this year?

Geek Foo

Something a little different this time. Had a fun chat at work the other day. Oddly enough, it was about surviving the zombie apocalypse. No, I don't really think there is one coming. No, zombie movies and books are not a staple of my entertainment (although I liked 30 Days Later and Ms. Hocking's Hollowland). But it was an interesting chat, discussing weaponry and such. I was going for guns with high velocity rounds and good sights, ideally military grade stuff I'd had loads of experience with. The conversation ended something like this:

Me: "You know, I used to teach marksmanship. And could put a three round shot group in a space the size of a quarter at a third of a mile."

Him: "OK, you can join our zombie survival group."

No, he doesn't really think there are zombies coming, either.

But the whole chat got me thinking about the zillions of useless or semi-practical bits of Geek Cred I've accumulated over the years. It's not the sort of thing I think about often, because it doesn't exactly fit on a regular resume. But I had some fun composing a fictional Geek Resume while driving, chuckling as I did.  Something like this:

- Second highest ranked Magic The Gathering player in the world; multiple M:tG Pro Tour competitor.

- Third Dan Black Belt. Owned own dojang for six years. Multiple national medalist. Combatives instructor for US Army Infantry.

- Expert marksman. Sniper cross trained. Qualified expert on pretty much every small arms in use by the Army.

- Guild leader of MMORPG guild for over a decade, spanning almost a dozen games and over a thousand players total.

- Multiply-published writer. Won award for short fiction.

- Semi-pro artist for multiple computer games. Actually made and (briefly, for fun) launched own MMORPG.

- Squire to a Knight in a medieval re-enactment organization. Also leader of local group. Also co-sponsor of Battle of Hastings recreation at the Pennsic War (where I played Harold last year - and won).

- Yes, that means I have a full kit of 1066 armor. I also have an awesome plate armor kit set in the late 14th century.

- Started playing D&D from age 7 on. Wrote own RPG and gamemastered it at GenCon 1993. Teaching kids, ages 5, 5, and 2, how to play D&D right now (which they love, btw).

- Used to build PCs for money, back in the 90s. Now do it for fun.

- Programming HTML since before it was cool.

- Can accurately quote at least 50% of the lines from "Princess Bride".

- College activities: fencing, SCA, RPG gaming, online gaming (MUDs), Tae Kwon Do, running my own small business.

Well, that's what came to mind. (No, I really don't take this any more seriously than the zombies, but it was fun!)

Of course, I lose a lot of cred because I have never to this day sent a text message from a cell phone (listens for gasps of horror).

 

So, what does your "Geek Resume" look like?  ;)

Little Writers

My wife and I have three kids - the eldest are twin girls, four years old.  And they've decided to take it upon themselves to begin writing books.  One of them just finished her book today.  It's four regular sheets of copier paper front and back, with art on the top third and writing on the rest.  We had to help her spell a number of the words, but the story itself was completely hers, every word of it from her brain. She took the completed pages, borrowed a roll of tape, and taped the pages together.  Then she taped two pieces of black construction paper together as a cover, adding cover art on both front and back covers, and taped the pages into the cover.

The result is actually a surprisingly good binding!  =)

Her story is a tale about a girl, a unicorn, and a butterfly on a short adventure together.  It's a short story.  Her handwriting is pretty typical for a four year old, and she's just begun grasping the concept of what a period is.  But it's her story - her book - and it's now sitting on the kids' bookshelf with their other books.  She's intensely proud of her effort, and so am I.