Quotes of the day

heinlein and howard
“A dying culture invariably exhibits personal rudeness. Bad manners. Lack of consideration for others in minor matters. A loss of politeness, of gentle manners, is more significant than is a riot.”
Robert A. Heinlein

“Civilized men are more discourteous than savages because they know they can be impolite without having their skulls split, as a general thing.”
Robert E. Howard

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BEST FICTION AND WRITING BLOGS

The best fiction and writing blog posts from around the ‘net, all guaranteed to make you a literary legend. Compiled by Mark Twain

Mark Twain
William R. AblanThe Blessing and Curse of Being a Pantser
GJ StevensInside the Publishing Industry
Colleen Cheseboro#Fairies, #Myths, & #Magic by Author, D. Wallace Peach
Timothy BurkhardtLocal comic-con returns after a two-year hiatus
A.R. JungTell don’t show…wait what?
Daniela ArkMeet the awesome blogger behind he Sci-Fi/Fantasy Books with Disability Masterlist!
Raimey GallantDon’t kill your darlings; shelve them
Mark TwainMark Twain’s Top 10 Writing Tips

Asimov’s 2019 predictions – fiction or fact?

Another genius of the last century, Yogi Berra, once quipped that “It’s tough to make predictions, especially about the future.” And that’s why we have to admire Isaac Asimov for getting so many things right, as this BBC article argues:

He foresaw the rise of computers, saying the complexity of society would make them “impossible to do without”, disrupting work and penetrating the home.

“To think that computers would take over the world was remarkably insightful at that time,” thinks Calum Chase, who writes both fiction and non-fiction books on the subject of artificial intelligence.

“Most bosses did not use computers in the 80s. It was their secretaries who had them and they would print out emails for the bosses to read. The internet was around but not many people knew about it.”

These days, Asimov’s predictions seem rather tame — well, OF COURSE computers are essential, not just in business, but in education, entertainment, and personal communications. But there was heated opposition to them when they first appeared.

Chase’s comments about the lowly status of computers in the ’80s bring back many memories. I worked for Jefferson-Pilot Corporation back then, a holding company for several life, health, and property insurance companies in Greensboro, North Carolina. My work with computers and a corporate-wide cost reduction program led to my transfer to the Organizational Development department, where we analyzed workflows, proposed more efficient and effective methods, and managed automation projects. That was one cool job.

I quickly learned that many of the managers we worked with wanted nothing to do with personal computers, which they viewed as glorified typewriters. In one of my projects, I mapped out a workflow process that eliminated the need for life insurance underwriters to dictate to a transcriptionist, who would then enter data into the mainframe (you know, a REAL computer). Instead, I proposed the underwriter directly enter the applicant and policy information into a local area network. The underwriting manager complained to my boss that I wanted to turn professional underwriters into secretaries.

After all, computers have a keyboard, and keyboards are for clerical workers!

Yes, times have changed. And Isaac Asimov saw a lot of what was coming. “Genius” is an over-used compliment these days, but I’d say he earned it.

Anthony Bourdain and the Writing Craft

Anthony Bourdain’s devotion to new experiences and authenticity hooked me on his show, “Parts Unknown.” He was no snob; he loved good food wherever he found it, whether he ate it from fine china or paper plates. You could tell his appreciation was genuine, as the above video clearly reveals.

In addition to his career as a chef, Bourdain was a gifted storyteller. If you haven’t read his groundbreaking New Yorker article about the delights and dangers of dining, you really owe it to yourself to read it, savor it, and digest it. That article, a combination exposé and love letter to the restaurant business, showcases Bourdain’s view that eating food is an adventure, as well as the best gateway for experiencing the world. As he once put it, “You learn a lot about someone when you share a meal together.”

Bourdain understood that telling a good story requires revealing one’s inner self, one’s vision of life, an act that takes awareness, guts, and craft. It means the writer must be honest with himself and his reader. It means he shines his light unflinchingly on his characters and follows the action, wherever that may lead. Fearless openness exerts an irresistible draw, as this CrimeReads article explains:

Despite his immense popularity, there was something about Bourdain that made you feel like he was letting you in on a secret. Here was a wildly popular TV host who didn’t condescend to the masses. He conveyed his passions to the viewer, no matter how esoteric. His work felt conspiratorial, pulling back the curtain on the restaurant business and then the world. He shared his personal demons just as he shared his impeccable taste in food, film, and books. We all felt like his travel companions and his confidants. We all felt like his friends.

Isn’t that what all writers want to do?

Stephen Hawking predicted race of ‘superhumans’

Here’s a troubling insight from one of history’s great scientists, via The Guardian:

The late physicist and author Prof Stephen Hawking has caused controversy by suggesting a new race of superhumans could develop from wealthy people choosing to edit their and their children’s DNA.

Hawking, the author of A Brief History of Time, who died in March, made the predictions in a collection of articles and essays.

The scientist presented the possibility that genetic engineering could create a new species of superhuman that could destroy the rest of humanity. The essays, published in the Sunday Times, were written in preparation for a book that will be published on Tuesday.

Can’t help but remember this episode from Star Trek TOS:

Who can forget this blistering exchange between Spock and McCoy:

SPOCK: Hull surface is pitted with meteor scars. However, scanners make out a name. SS Botany Bay.
KIRK: Then you can check the registry.
SPOCK: No such vessel listed. Records of that period are fragmentary, however. The mid=1990s was the era of your last so-called World War.
MCCOY: The Eugenics Wars.
SPOCK: Of course. Your attempt to improve the race through selective breeding.
MCCOY: Now, wait a minute. Not our attempt, Mister Spock. A group of ambitious scientists. I’m sure you know the type. Devoted to logic, completely unemotional

The problem with selective breeding, as Spock later points out, is that “superior ability breeds superior ambition.” Instead of Ghandis and Einsteins, you get Hitlers and Napoleons.

Indeed, that’s the problem with all utopian schemes, from eugenics to communism — those pesky unforeseen consequences. Our minds evolved to adapt and survive in small social groups facing a harsh, unforgiving environment. The complex processes underlying the universe are beyond our grasp, just as our muscles are incapable of tossing boulders into orbit. Our muscles and our minds are not only useful, but extraordinary, but each have their limitations. True wisdom is the recognition and acceptance of those limitations.

That’s why we should heed Hawking’s last words.

Christopher Tolkien, last of the Inklings

Christopher Tolkien Hannah Long gives a well-deserved tribute to J.R.R. Tolkien’s son and literary heir Christopher in the latest Weekly Standard. Long’s introduction to Christopher Tolkien’s life work includes insights into what makes the elder Tolkien’s stories so enchanting and timeless.

The junior Tolkien’s task was not easy: He had to organize, polish, and edit 70 boxes of manuscripts his father left behind, many stuffed with scraps of poetry, notes, and incomplete short stories. But out of that chaos, Christopher Tolkien harvested 25 works the world would probably never have seen otherwise, including The Silmarillion and a prose translation of Beowulf. The latest, The Fall of Gondolin, saw publication this August.

Tolkien’s works continue to nourish a reading public hungry for the myths that Tolkien made new, accessible, and meaningful. Tolkien and his fellow Inklings were rebels who waged literary war against the bleak alienation and scientism of their age. As Long puts it in her article:

For the Inklings, the medium of fantasy restored—or rather revealed—the enchantment of a disenchanted world. It reinstated an understanding of the transcendent that had been lost in postwar alienation.

“The value of myth,” C.S. Lewis wrote in an essay defending The Lord of the Rings, “is that it takes all the things we know and restores to them the rich significance which has been hidden by ‘the veil of familiarity.’” In this, fantasy did precisely the opposite of what its critics alleged—it did not represent a flight from the real world but a return to it, an unveiling of it. A child, Lewis wrote, “does not despise real woods because he has read of enchanted woods,” but “the reading makes all real woods a little enchanted.”

And isn’t that what attracts us to fantasy fiction? Today, people find themselves in a blur of gadgets, images, and endless consumption that replaces, rather than enhances, human existence. The enduring appeal of the Inklings’ works, as with all good fantasy, is the astounding news that the enchanted dwells with us, that beauty and mystery surround and enrich us even when we’re too busy to notice.

Start with short stories, not novels

“Like many science fiction authors, I began by writing short stories, which isn’t the norm any more, at least not among British authors today. Today young authors would rather write novels straight off—and that’s precisely why these novels are mostly so poor. In every job you need a certain amount of practice, whether you’re a violinist or a joiner, and short stories offer writers a wonderful chance to acquire the necessary tools. The Mona Lisa, was, after all, not exactly Leonardo da Vinci’s first painting. In any case I learned what it meant to be a writer by writing short stories; what my weaknesses and strengths are.” J. G. Ballard, author of Crash and Empire of the Sun

I wholeheartedly agree with Ballard here. In fact, I wish I’d read his advice 15 years ago, when I wrote two novels that never found any love in the slush piles. As he said, you have to acquire the necessary tools first, and the only way you’ll do that is to start writing, even if it’s junk. As Chuck Jones once put it, “Every artist has thousands of bad drawings in them and the only way to get rid of them is to draw them out.” Ya gotta pay those dues.

As different as long works are from short ones, both share the same essential features, including:

– sympathetic characters who have agency
– the protag’s goal, or elusive desire
– that thing or person preventing the protag from getting what he desires and
– a satisfactory conclusion.

And of course, to varying degrees, there are those more elusive and more difficult to define factors, such as style, believable dialog, foreshadowing, and all the other literary devices that make the story work.

Even flash fiction must have the same essentials listed above, plus as many of the supporting literary devices you can pack into 1,000 words. And in an age where people are drowning in too much information, it’s vital for a writer to learn how to say more with less. What better place to learn than in short literary works?

“Tuggle ably captures the spirit of Dan Brown novels and Indiana Jones–style adventure stories.” Kirkus Reviews

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