Saturday, June 29, 2013

Quick Update

I promised you...

an update on the Memoir class Walter and I are taking through Minneapolis Community Education.  It's halfway done, and a good time to start judging. :-)

The teacher is very pleasant and supportive.  I don't know that she brings a lot of helpful input to the class.  I'm not interested in Memoir, so there is a chance she has given some insight that I didn't identify.

She is open to suggestion.  She's one of those teachers who likes to give us time to write in class, and I find that a huge waste of time.  We have all week to do that.  The students let her know that we're more interested in things like sharing our work, and she is listening.

The students this time around are an unusual mix.  They're mostly women, and all very committed.  A few joined the class specifically to tell a story that has happened to them.

I also promised you...

an update about CONvergence.  The full schedule is out.  Not a lot more writing related things have been added.  Mostly they just filled in the main stage events, and live music, and such.  A lot of the schedule is tagged now, so the list of writing related events I posted earlier might not be as helpful.

That's all for now.  I'll try to make a post every day of the convention.   It starts this Thursday, and runs through Sunday.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Poetry Delayed

It's "my" turn to publish. As I was getting ready ( thinking about my topic, which was poetry; my subject , which was either my retirement or the serious illness of a dear elderly friend of mine and my spouse's; what I might say about each ) to put the material together a very spirited summer cold caught up with me and loosed all the steam in my engine.

I went from a human being excited about his poetry to a fetally-positioned adult under the covers in bed waiting for the thermal cycle to change. Now too hot, remove long sleeved top and blanket; now too cold, replace long sleeved top and blanket; now too hot ... .

Oh., and don't forget to cough. The coughing, which did not cause pain in my throat or chest, seemed to be almost continuous, and brought its own discomfort, each cough causing pain somewhere on my skull. The only way I could get relief from that was to be upright. That slowed the coughing quite a bit while making getting sleep difficult.

That has passed and I am pretty sure I am going to recover now. So I will have a poem to post next week.

Saturday, June 22, 2013


Walter and myself have been taking classes through the Minneapolis Community Education system for a while now.  We're on our fourth class.

Of the four teachers, the first concentrated on fiction, but not heavily so, and no mention of speculative fiction.  The other three have all been focused on memoir.  That is to be expected about the most recent class, since it's called Memoir Writing.
I'm not sure what the Creative Writing teacher's excuse was though. :-)

So far, each class has provided interesting viewpoints, both from the teachers, and the students.  Some have had a better structure than others, but all have provided a structure, which is better than no structure.  They have kept us focused on writing.  Some have provided a venue for feedback about our work.

Oh, and they're practically free.
If money was no object, I'd probably be taking classes at The Loft.  Money is, of course, an object.  I still think I'll take a class there (or somewhere similar) someday to gain perspective.
Next week I'll give a review of the class we're currently taking.

Drink the Kool Aid

The saying describes someone who unquestioningly does something stupid.  It's based on the kool aid that was drunk at Jonestown.  It turns out that only a small percent knowingly drank poison of their own free will.  Some honestly didn't know there was poison, and others were forced to drink it at gunpoint.

I have never used the term.  I just heard the saying in a song, and felt the need to inform others.  It's inaccuracy causes it to be offensive, and I'm sure people wouldn't use it if they knew.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

May Poetry Make Your Days a Little Lighter

One of the ways I would like to add light to our days is via poetry ... with the poetry treating both some light content and some more serious material.

For the more serious material, I may include
thoughts ( mine or others ) about current events, or our popular culture. My life's events include encounters that are both  lighter and more serious in nature, and I hope to address both, some in poetic form.

When "waxing poetic," I envision treating this material in various ways ... free form poetic verse as well as the better-defined forms of haiku and limerick. The more serious the content the less likely to be treated in either of the latter forms.

Girl from Nantucket
Her shoe stuck in a bucket
... Baref 't out she stuck it. 
copyright Walter R. Jost

Saturday, June 15, 2013


For those of you who might not know, steampunk is genera of sci-fi that takes place in a vision of the future that someone from the year 1900 might have had.  It's one of my favorites to read because it can seem to be a mix of sci-fi and fantasy.  So, of course I'm going to try to write some.
In my opinion, a good sci-fi story is free to speculate about any technology we are not currently aware of, but must not contradict what we already know to be true.
Steampunk has different limitations.  It must not contract the understanding of the year 1900 (or there abouts).  The trade off is that it should not accurately portray the understanding of technology that has been developed in the mean time either. 
Is this more restrictive or less?  I'm not sure, but its different, and that makes it more interesting to me.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Deer in the Headlights

Ellie, my wife, and I were in our car, headed home from a friend’s.  We were passing through a wooded area, known to be populated by deer ( though we’d never seen one, let alone had one cross our path ) and about which our friend frequently warned us to be careful. It was well past twilight — early dark; Ellie was driving. This was pretty much our modus operandi.

Suddenly, four deer, in single file, jumped from a ravine onto the road and crossed ahead of us. Ellie was paying attention, easily stopped in time, and the deer were close to the car. We could see their little white-tipped tails in the headlights.

“Wow, that was cool,” I said.

She replied, “Yes ... wasn’t it. It looked like a doe and her three fawns. You think?”

“I dunno,” I replied; “I sort of got stuck on the lead one, as it pranced over the road in front of us. It was so cool to be so close to them.”

“'Twas,” she replied, as we were leaving the scene.

By now both the deer and the incident were behind us. But as we talked it became evident that we had not experienced the same incident. In my incident, the deer crossed from the driver’s side to the passenger’s side of our car; in Ellie’s they crossed the opposite way.

This discrepancy amazed, befuddled and perplexed me. My world view is that truth is truth; facts are facts. But it also amused me. Both of us are mature human beings, reasonably aware of what’s going on, and yet we had opposite views of what we had just experienced. I had heard of such a thing but always found excuses for the principals. Being personally involved challenged my world view. But I am also flexible enough that, while the incident did bemuse me, it also amused me. Part of the amusement was that we would never be able to know which of our views was correct. Was the fact. Was, indeed, true. I also knew, of course, that it didn’t really matter.

I had told this story, representing it as the down side of eye-witness accounts, several times; everyone, knowing Ellie and me, shook their heads and chuckled along with me. Representing it the same way, with Ellie present this time, I launched into the story with another couple of friends. Ellie picked it up at the point where there deer were crossing the road, “ ... and four of them jumped from the ravine on the left side of the road and crossed, single file, right in front of us.”

“Yes, isn’t that ... ,” I began; then I realized what she had said. “No, that’s not what you said that night.”

“Sure it is,” she responded.

“No, you said,” and I waved my right hand, indicating movement from right to left in front of me.

Shaking her head energetically, “That’s what you said.”

We continued that fruitless discussion a bit longer, eventually realizing that our disagreement about this had the same strength that the disagreement on the direction of the deer had earlier. Our difference had morphed from being about the direction of the deer across the road into being about who changed their story. The only similarity between the two disagreements is that there is no way to know for sure. Oh, and it really doesn’t matter.

Saturday, June 8, 2013

Writing Podcasts

I used to be able to walk most places as a means of transportation.  It was enjoyable, and I miss that.  One benefit was that I got to listen to a lot of audiobooks and podcasts.  Print books are a good substitution for audiobooks, but I do miss podcasts.

Combing that interest with my new writing hobby, I've been checking out writing related podcasts lately.  Some have just been a good venue to check out short stories by aspiring authors.  Others have been about how to write.

I had heard that Jordan Castillo Price has a podcast about writing.  I have not read any of her books, but I have heard her name mentioned by others on the Urban Fantasy group on GoodReads, so I was interested.

I was expecting, or maybe just hoping, that it would be specifically about writing Urban Fantasy.  It's called (and don't laugh!) Packing Heat: Erotica Tips and Techniques.  I had to go back and look at her body of work.  None appear to be Erotica, but some are categorized as Romance.  I think she might mean Romance, but we'll see.

Now I've only listened to the first two, so I'll keep this brief.  So far it hasn't been so much about how to write anything, as it has been about how to be a writer.  That isn't the step I'm on yet, but it should be helpful later, and it's fun to think about.  It looks like she no longer produces it, but there are over a hundred episodes.  My plan is to listen to a few more, take some of her advice, and report back.  Noting erotic has been mentioned, but if it gets weird, I'll report back about that too.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

What's your attitude toward "dhimmitude"

Let me tell you about a disturbing email that I received ( well, actually my wife received it, it disturbed her and she sent it on to me for comment/further disturbance ). All future references to the sender herein refer to the originator who sent it to my wife, not to my wife. ( Just to be clear. )

The subject of the email: dhimmitude. Are you wondering, “What’s this?” So did I.

The email told me what it is ( “the Muslim system of controlling non-Muslim populations conquered through jihad” ). Whew! Controversy. Muslims, non-Muslims, Jihad, conquer, control.

The email said further:
  • It is embedded in the health care law
    ( Which I am going to refer to herein as the PPACA, Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. )
  • It is embedded by explicitly exempting Muslims from the tax requirements of PPACA
  • We ( non-Muslims ) are thereby subsidizing Muslims for their health care
  • We ( non-Muslims ) are getting screwed because we ( as Christians ) face all kinds of sanctions if we don’t pay the tax or sign up for the insurance and they ( those Muslims ) get it for free
  • We ( non-Muslims ) need to make sure all ( non-Muslims ) in the United States know about this
    ( The actual wording, in big bold lettering: “Keep this going. Every non-Muslim in the United States of America needs to know about it”. )

I was both flabbergasted and skeptical. I could not believe our PPACA would be written as claimed. The email struck me as a classic “we good, they bad” message intending to stir all members of “we good” against everyone else ( they, bad ).

I thought I’d better check it out on Snopes ( the Internet rumor-checking site )  and found the email itself had a link to the Snopes site. Tottering between anger at our government for kowtowing to Muslims and anger at the sender of this email for just stirring the pot, I clicked the link.

The message of this email: FALSE. 

According to Snopes
  • The PPACA does not explicitly exempt any particular groups
  • The PPACA does contain language which allows for the possibility of an exemption
  • The groups which may be exempt have not been determined
    ( and likely will not be for a long time )
  • Such groups would have to be adherents of a group or sect defined in the IRS code which governs the exemptions to the Social Security tax on self-employment income. One requirement for such inclusion includes that the group teaching the individual is opposed to the acceptance of benefits.

In summary, if there were a general exemption of the tax for Muslims ( which there is not ) it would be, in part, because Muslims are willing to forgo benefits.

It is appalling that people are circulating email containing this kind of ... what? To call it “misinformation” is, I think, to be kind. It’s the “big lie” of the Nazi era ( for which I was not around ). It’s based on the idea that the bigger, the more egregious, the more appalling the lie, the more we are willing to believe it because nobody would lie that much, that largely, about so many things all at once.

Everything about the email is controversial:

  • Muslims. Yup.
  • The PPACA. Check.
  •  The mandatory insurance requirement of PPACA. Absolutely
  • The PPACA needs improvement. Very likely.

Riling people’s emotions, especially with what I’ll call the “Muslim card,” with “big lie” information, information that would make the most rational among us livid, not only makes a rational conversation about the PPACA impossible, it exacerbates the gap that already exists between Muslims and non-Muslims ( which gap may exist in the first place because of similar lies, innuendo and the “big lie” ). This behavior does great violence to everyone ... e – v – e – r – y – o – n – e.

What did I do with the email? I replied to the sender, showing the portion of the Snopes page giving its summary FALSE judgment of the email. I expounded – briefly – on anyone’s getting an exemption would forfeit the benefit. I also said that, just for fun, I checked and found essentially the same thing Snopes said. I closed with the suggestion that it would perhaps be a good idea to check Snopes before forwarding email on controversial topics.

I say it is not enough to merely delete this sort of thing; people who send them should be told we know the truth, and we do not want to participate. Hard to do? Yes. Going to cost friendship? Dunno. Worth doing? I hope so. ( For a possibly more effective response, REPLY TO ALL. )

By the way ... about dhimmitude: per, this is an academic concept, not a tenet of the Muslim faith. “For an email to present dhimmitude as an established Muslim value rather than a scholarly concept ... is misleading.”

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Writing Convention?

I'm told that there are a bunch of good places for aspiring writers to meet up in the Twin Cities, and I have been to none of them... yet.  Did I mention I'm new to this? I did however go to Convergence last year, and intend to go again this year.

Convergence is a yearly speculative fiction convention that will be held in Bloomington, MN on July fourth this year.  It's a big deal, and worth traveling for, although I'm lucky enough to live nearby.  Now it isn't about writing per se, and my interest in writing is not my main interest in attending, but it is a surprisingly good resource for someone interested in writing speculative fiction.

Some of the panels are clearly about how to write.

Others are not so blatant, but are about subjects a speculative fiction author might consider, such as "Use of Magic in Books"

And of course throughout all four days there will be authors doing readings, signings, and participating in panels.

There are even panels that would be of interest to someone trying to market a book, like "How to Get Your Book into the Library". John Picacio will be attending, who is a professional artist that specializes in book covers.

The full schedule can be found here, and I made a custom schedule with with only the events that I think are writing related here.